Stolen ATVs another part of the problem

Posted: October 02, 2012

Bert Collins loaded his ATV into his pick-up truck in July, hauled it all the way to North Philly from rural Maryland, and pretty much lost his faith in humanity on West Huntingdon Street.

Collins unwittingly delivered his ATV to thieves he met on Craigslist.

"I remember he asked if he could run it down the end of the block. He went down the end of the block, hung a right and disappeared," Collins, of Frederick, Md., told the Daily News about the man he thought he was selling his ATV to. "Ever the optimist, I thought he was just going around the block, but I never saw the quad again."

Collins, 52, isn't scheduled to speak during City Council's first-ever hearings on ATVs and dirt bikes Wednesday, but rampant thefts are another part of the problem, one that branches out to the suburbs and beyond.

The hearing, scheduled for 10 a.m., will allow public input on Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown's bill to set stiff penalties for anyone who operates or parks an ATV or dirt bike on public property.

The bill also would enable authorities to destroy confiscated vehicles or issue a $2,000 fine. Riders of seized ATVs and dirt bikes now face smaller fines, but the city sells the vehicles at auction, often to illegal riders.

Many of those seized ATVs and dirt bikes were stolen and experts say thefts are likely underreported, because so many owners don't register their vehicles. Many also ride illegally in streets and parks, so can be reluctant to involve police.

"A lot of them are stolen, but they're not registered, so when we take a report, there's not a lot of identifying information" to help owners reclaim them, said Southwest Police Division Inspector Dennis Wilson. "The owner just describes a motorcycle to us. So it's very difficult to recover them."

Philadelphia police statistics show 365 dirt bikes and ATVs have been reported stolen since 2007.

While sites like stolen ATV.com and stolendirtbike.com try to reunite pilfered vehicles with their owners, it rarely happens. Thieves often destroy VIN numbers and often hurry them into chop shops for a fast facelift or breakdown for parts.

That's why Nico Heller, 18, of Macungie, Berks County, doubts he'll see his Yamaha Banshee ATV again. Like Collins, Heller was selling his ATV on Craigslist and agreed to meet the buyer in Philadelphia, in a park off Clearfield Street last month. He let the rider take a test ride without getting any cash in exchange and that was the end of it.

"The cops didn't really want to get involved that much," Heller said.

Anthony Peabody, 27, of Swedesboro, N.J., didn't travel to the city to sell ATVs, but they still wound up there after getting stolen in July. After posting a reward, he got a call from someone saying they spotted one quad in Fairmount Park. When Philly police began cracking down on ATVs this past summer, Peabody called to see if his had been recovered - and one had.

But the quad - worth $4,000 before the theft - was badly damaged, its tires ravaged and grab bar scraped from wheelies.

When cops confiscate vehicles from illegal riders, they check tags and VIN numbers to see if they're stolen. The Philadelphia Parking Authority does the same before it sells the seized vehicles at auction, spokesman Marty O'Rourke said. Wilson recommends registering your vehicles, recording the VIN and taking photographs to increase your chances of recovery.

To thwart theft, owners resort to chains too thick for bolt-cutters, wheel and ignition locks, and alarms. In North Philly, one garage owner uses a forklift to hoist his bikes into the rafters, an inconvenience that became necessary when thieves repeatedly broke in - by ramming through the garage doors - to steal them.

He declined to give his name "because I don't want no one to know who I am and come steal them again."

Staff Writer Morgan Zalot contributed to this report.

Contact Jason Nark at narkj@phillynews.com or 215-854-5916. Follow him on Twitter @JasonNark.

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