Arkansas visitors victims of bike theft

Group awoke to thieves stealing expensive mountain bikes off their SUV.

Mike Lunsford and three of his friends received less than southern hospitality during their first night in Nanaimo last week.

Having spent 11 days on the road beginning in their home state of Arkansas with Nanaimo as their destination, the group wanted to celebrate graduating from the University of Central Arkansas with a mountain bike vacation while topping off their education with a seven week exchange program at Vancouver Island University.

“We’d heard a lot of great things about riding here, and Mount Washington and Whistler, and this is where we wanted to come,” said Lunsford, 22.

After arriving on the 4 p.m. ferry on June 15, they did a quick orientation drive through town before visiting the campus, where they learned a room at the student residence wasn’t yet available.

To continue with their adventure and strict budget, the group decided to save some money and sleep in their Toyota 4 Runner in the Travel Lodge parking lot on Terminal Avenue. With luggage under a tarp on the roof and four top-end mountain bikes locked with two locks on a rear bike carrier, they fell asleep at about 10 p.m.

“I woke up at 5 a.m. and the truck was moving like there was a really high wind or something,” said Lunsford. “Then it sort of occurred to me that someone was trying to get our bikes. I woke the other guys up.”

The four exploded out of the truck as a man was riding away on one bike. Justin, the bike’s owner, ran him down and pulled him off.

Lunsford’s bike was already gone.

The locks had been cut clean by a sharp instrument.

“I spent the next five hours searching all of downtown for it,” he said. “In the bushes, everywhere. When I saw someone riding a bike I stopped them to see if any of my bike’s parts were on it. I didn’t know what else to do. Everything we had planned for the seven weeks was around riding.”

Stolen was Lunsford’s flat black Specialized SX Trail mountain bike with unique RockShox Pike front suspension, Fox rear suspension and blue anodized rims. The rig is worth about $4,000.

“It’s all custom, everything but the frame,” said Lunsford. “It hurts getting it stolen but it hurts more knowing that whoever stole it probably doesn’t appreciate it.”

RCMP describe two suspects as Caucasian males in their 20s. One of them was wearing a NASCAR hat while the other had long scraggly hair and scruffy clothes.

“It was definitely a crime of opportunity and unfortunately they were in the wrong spot at the wrong time,” said Nanaimo RCMP spokesman Gary O’Brien. “It was definitely a rude awakening, to arrive in Nanaimo and  have this happen. That’s not the impression we want to leave visitors with here.”

O’Brien said bike theft is on an increase in the city, and that some, especially expensive ones, end up being traded for drugs.

“We let our guard down on one night,” said Lunsford, who is offering a $300 reward, no questions asked. “We’re usually pretty good at knowing our surroundings and who’s around. It seemed pretty safe.”

It’s the third time in recent weeks exchange students in Nanaimo have been victims of theft.

Anyone with information relating to this crime is asked to call the Nanaimo RCMP at 250-754-2345 or Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.crimestoppers.com.

reporter2@nanaimobulletin.com