Collins' case is one of the 365 ATVs or dirt bikes reported stolen in Philadelphia since 2007, part of an alarming trend of illegal activity related to off-road vehicles roaming city streets that has officials scrambling for a solution.
Council will hold its first-ever hearing on the issue at 10 a.m. Wednesday when it examines a bill introduced by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. The measure would enable authorities to destroy confiscated vehicles or issue a $2,000 fine. Riders of seized ATVs and dirt bikes now face smaller fines. The city sells the vehicles at auction - often to illegal riders - and many of those seized ATVs and dirt bikes were stolen in the first place.
Experts say the thefts are likely underreported, because so many ATV owners don't register them. Also, many owners ride illegally in streets and parks, so they 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 Inspector Dennis Wilson, of the Southwest Police Division. "The owner just describes a motorcycle to us. So it's very difficult to recover them."
Although sites such as stolen ATV.com and stolendirtbike.com try to reunite pilfered vehicles with their owners, it rarely happens. Thieves often destroy vehicle-identification numbers and hurry the ATVs into chop shops for a fast face-lift or breakdown for parts.
That's why Nico Heller, 18, of Macungie, Berks County, doubts that he'll see his Yamaha Banshee ATV again. Like Collins, Heller was selling his ATV on Craigslist and agreed to meet the supposed 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 his three ATVs, but they still wound up there after being stolen in July. When Philly police began cracking down on ATVs this past summer, Peabody called to see if any of 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 vehicle-identification numbers (VIN) 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 that owners register their vehicles, record the VIN and take photographs to increase their chances of recovery.
To thwart theft, some 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-5916. Follow him on Twitter @JasonNark.