Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

A 72-year-old bicyclist, on his seventh trip around the entire planet, had his life goal of riding 200,000 kilometers cut short by a yet unknown thief in Crescent City this week.

Information about Armando Basile can be found easily online, as his journey has been covered by worldwide media outlets. Basile’s Facebook page told his friends and followers worldwide, that his bike was taken Wednesday from a gas station in Crescent City.

Crescent City Police Officer Gene Votruba said Basile stopped at the Chevron Station at U.S .101 and Elk Valley Road about 5:30 Wednesday morning. Votruba said security cameras showed Basile writing in his journal and having a cup of tea when an unknown subject walked away with his bike and luggage outside.

Basile called police, and a search of the area commenced.

At the location was Randy Johnson, who was offended by the theft, and wanted to help. Johnson drove around the area in his company van looking for the bike and thief, to no avail.

“This guy’s been all over the world many times on this bike,” Johnson said, listing off places Basile has toured through. “He’s even been to Tazmania... all to come to Crescent City and have some tweaker shut down his ride...”

Votruba seconded the sentiment, to some degree.

“That call actually made me angry,” Votruba said. “This guy has biked the world six times over and is on his seventh trip, then comes to our town only to be ripped off by one of our local thieves.”

Votruba praised Johnson, who took the time to search the area for the stolen cycle.

Speaking with Basile by phone Thursday, he had little to say, except the theft of his bike brings his journey to an end. He said although the bike was located, its luggage and instrumentation cannot be replaced.

Basile said he will be catching a plane to the Bay area and then back to Germany.

According to his Facebook page, he will fly from the Bay Area to Frankfurt on Saturday.

How they found it

When the bike couldn’t be found Wednesday morning, Votruba suggested posting a bulletin on social media, with a photo taken of the thief by security cameras.

Votruba said a caller reporting having the bike but not the luggage. The caller told Votruba he bought the Tout Terrain bicycle from a subject who’d advertised it on Craigslist for far below its value. Votruba said the caller had agreed to buy the bike and had possession of it until payment was to be made. However, when a relative of the buyer saw the bike Thursday, he alerted him that it was the one from the CCPD Facebook post.

“They called us immediately and we got Armando over there to identify it,” Votruba said. “But it didn’t have the luggage or anything and (Basile) was still wearing the same clothes he wore into town on Tuesday.” Basile stayed at the Bayview Inn during the investigation. Johnson found out about the recovery and offered to store the bike until Basile left.

“He’s going to fly home tomorrow,” Votruba said, recalling a later conversation with Basile. “He may collect some items and hopefully, he’ll come back to finish.”

“The Police Department of Crescent City has done a good job, he has his bike again, probably defective, but the bags with the luggage continue to disappear, right now he is home on the return flight, updates follow,” Basile’s Facebook page said Friday.

Votruba says the department does have a suspect in the case and are currently looking for him.

A big local problem

Crescent City sees many bicycle thefts per year. When asked to identify the most stolen items in Del Norte County, Sheriff’s Commander Bill Steven replied, “Bicycles and anything left in cars.”

During annual events, CCPD regularly warns visitors to bring bicycles into their rooms, rather than leave them attached to vehicles. Visitors who arrive in RVs often attach them to bike racks, only to find them stolen later.

Asked if the Police Department responds to bicycle thefts at Shoreline RV, the City-owned RV park, Votruba replied, “Oh yeah.” He said the department sees the most bicycle thefts between the S curves and South Beach.

In that area, there are two more RV parks, Bayside RV and Redwood Harbor RV, which is owned and operated by the Harbor District. Harbormaster Charlie Helms said thefts of bicycles at Redwood is frequent and estimated that about 10 have been stolen from park users since the harbor took over about two years ago.

At Bayside RV, the problem became so pervasive that management offered to provide more security.

Park Manager Janis Kertula said locks and cables seem to do little to slow bike thieves.

“We take it upon ourselves to warn people staying here that this is a problem,” she said. “It’s horrible.”

Bayside management now offers travelers the security of having their bicycles locked in the park’s secure office. Owners can access the bikes when the building is open, during daylight hours but at night, they are locked up. The office has a tenant living above and managers nearby, as well as camera security.

Kertula added that along with bicycles, the park has seen many thefts of all types of cooking materials, from frying pans to portable stoves.

Officer Votruba said he is confounded as to why bicycles are so frequently stolen here. He recalled an evening where he and another officer arrested two subjects for climbing over the cyclone fence at the Police Department, attempting to steal bicycles from its storage area.

Wier said the City has asked for extra police patrol in the area of Shoreline RV, but preventing theft will require a combined effort of making extra patrol and owners securing their bikes.

Votruba said that some thieves are adept at determining when officers will leave and area and can take bikes in a matter of seconds.

Crescent City Manager Eric Wier said staff at Shoreline RV suggests that if bicycles can fit inside the RV, that would be the safest place to keep them.

Where bikes go

While some stolen bikes are sold, evidence of many others can be found by going back into the trees around Crescent City.

During recent cleanups of homeless encampments around the city, piles of bicycle frames and parts were found at several locations near South Beach and behind the Jedediah Smith Shopping Center.

In fact, one area had been made into a sort of bicycle chop shop, complete with tools and loads of parts for breaking down the bikes and reassembling them.

Another area cleaned up in 2017 brought dozens of bike frames, tires and tubes from an area near South Beach. Bicycle parts are a commonly found item in homeless camp cleanups.

Votruba spoke of an area off Washington Boulevard, which is frequently used for homeless camps, that often has vast accumulations of bike frames and parts. Several scattered frames were located on a visit to the area Thursday afternoon.

Votruba said while most items have a serial number, many bicycle owners do not think to write theirs down, making them impossible to identify once stolen.

A cold welcome

Basile’s trip is not the first time a visiting bicyclist has had their Bike stolen in Del Norte County.

Just before Christmas 2017, cancer survivor and advocate Stephen Swift was on a bicycle ride down the West Coast when his bicycle was stolen from a doorway at the Lucky 7 Casino in Smith River. What makes the crime particularly reprehensible is that the bike was attached to a trailer with a sign clearly reading, “Biking around America for cancer.” According to Swift, the thief had to spend some time pulling mechanical pins to release the trailer before it could be ridden away. Despite having video footage of the theft on casino security cameras, his bike was never recovered.

Swift remained in the Crescent City area for several days looking for his bike and was ready to call off his ride entirely. While camped out in Crescent City, some of his camping gear and bedding was also stolen.

Fred Meyer in Brookings gave him a new bicycle and he continued on, dragging a trailer of camping gear and personal belongings.

Swift had a previous bike stolen a couple years’ prior, on which was a journal of positive messages from cancer survivors and supporters on his trip.