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Bike theft crime ring discovered and arrested

Three suspects in recent on-campus bicycle thefts were arrested last week by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department after an extensive investigation by Biola’s Campus Safety, according to John Ojeisekhoba, chief of Campus Safety.

Brothers Ernesto and Daniel Avelar, and Ana Martinez are suspected to have stolen at least 10 bikes from the Biola campus and admitted upon interrogation to auctioning the bikes at a local swap meet, according to Ojeisekhoba.

Ojeisekhoba gave credit to his “invaluable staff” for the success of the investigation after hours of patrolling, analyzing surveillance video, and checking bicycle racks.

In weeks prior to the arrest, campus safety received increasing reports of stolen bicycles from students and Ojeisekhoba alerted his personnel to look for related activity.

“The officers took it upon themselves to check every single bicycle rack,” he said.

Botched theft at Sigma Chi leads to discovery of criminals

On Friday, Sept. 18, safety personnel found two bicycles located in the Lot J rack behind Sigma Chi with tampered locks that evening, one partially cut and the other completely severed, Ojeisekhoba said. After the discovery, officer José Alvarez took the unlocked bike into custody for safekeeping.

“Based on my experience as a police officer, aside from Biola, the window for criminals to come back and finish up is minimum 6-8 hours,” Ojeisekhoba said. “I had my personnel put a camera on that bike rack the next morning and sure enough, here comes a green Honda Accord. A male Hispanic got out of the car, took a bull cutter out of his pocket, finished off the one that he started and removed the front bike tire, loaded the bicycle into the rear passenger seat of the car, and drove off.”

The camera footage showed the car and its license plate, 4KKX554. Ojeisekhoba said he released an alert to his staff and placed extra personnel at entrances for the next week to conduct surveillance, hoping to catch the suspects in the act.

During this time, unsecured bikes began disappearing, and one female student reported her bicycle stolen Monday, Sept. 27, according to Ojeisekhoba. The time frame of the incident provided by that student allowed Campus Safety to examine surveillance videos and track suspicious activity.

Theft ring caught on surveillance cameras at other dorms

In several clips, the same green Honda Accord involved in the prior incident is shown entering campus and parking, Ojeisekhoba said. Two males and a female are shown exiting the vehicle. Another segment reveals the same three individuals at Hope Hall approaching the dorm, disappearing to either side of the building to check the bike racks, and walking away with a bicycle.

With the evidence gathered by personnel, Ojeisekhoba said campus safety partnered with the LASD to track the license plate to the registered car, which led to Wednesday’s arrests. The suspects, residing in Buena Park, are connected with bicycle thefts on several other college campuses, according to Ojeisekhoba.

“This is major in terms of crime, in terms of this particular situation,” Ojeisekhoba said. “These people are major. They represent the majority of people that come steal bikes on campus, but that doesn’t mean there’s not another crew out there that comes to steal bikes.”

Students continue to be cautious about bike safety

While previously nonchalant students may start locking up their bikes, roommates junior Johnny Vanderwell and sophomore Caleb Parker said they’ve been cautious all along.

“We always keep them in our room,” Vanderwell said “We have three bikes in our room. Two of them work pretty well and one just sits in the middle.”

Vanderwell uses the U-Lock system, which Ojeisekhoba recommends as the best for securing bicycles because it is extremely difficult to cut.

“If you have a strong enough tool you can cut through anything, if it’s just metal,” said Parker, who sometimes borrows his roommate’s lock. “But U-Locks are better because they’re just solid steel the whole way around.”

With over $1,000 worth in bikes between them, Vanderwell and Parker said it is stupid to be careless, listing off several of their fellow Emerson dwellers who neglect to lock up. According to Ojeisekhoba, however, student assets remain a priority.

“Our approach is not one of sitting on our hands and becoming complacent,” Ojeisekhoba said. “Rather, our approach is we will continue to push forward, we will continue to seek individuals like this and get them out of here, and we will continue to do whatever it takes to keep our students and their personal property safe.”

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