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Ghost bike thefts are on the rise

Family, friends, neighbors and members of the Duke City Wheelmen gather at Los Arboles and Moon NE for the installation of a ghost bike in honor of Christopher Greathouse, 12, who was struck and killed by a car at the intersection June 15. The ghost bike was installed Saturday. (Courtesy of Jennifer Henson)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The end of a beautiful summer afternoon came with a slam, a scream, then the shock of seeing the small boy lying motionless next to a crumpled red bike on the asphalt in a quiet Northeast Heights neighborhood where things like that don’t happen.

He was a sweet boy, they all said of Christopher Greathouse, who was 12 on that June 15 afternoon.

He is 12 now always.

Albuquerque police at the time said the driver of the SUV that struck and killed Christopher on Los Arboles at Moon was likely not at fault. Alcohol was not a factor. She was not the one with the stop sign.

Christopher Greathouse snuggles with a friend’s dog named Pumpkin. “Chris loved animals,” his mother says. “He’d see a stray and want to give it love.” (Courtesy of Pamela Wilson)

That never sat right with Christopher’s mother, who said the SUV appeared to come out of nowhere fast.

His brother Stanley, riding near him, had seen the whole thing, she said.

On Nov. 10, on a graveled corner at the intersection where Christopher died, a white bike with a small license plate bearing his name was dedicated to his memory. Friends and family and the members of the Duke City Wheelmen, who have installed 35 similar memorial bikes across the state, placed red flowers in the spokes and solar lights in the ground.

Ghost bikes, as they are called, mark the spot where a cyclist took his or her last breath. They are a reminder of the tragedy that can happen in an instant when the road is not shared or attention wanders. They are descansos with wheels, memorials with gears, frozen in white paint and rebar dug into the earth.

Lately, however, some ghost bikes have not been so eternal, pilfered and vandalized by those who dare to disturb the symbol of remembrance for a loved one gone.

Since October, three bikes have been tampered with or removed – and those are only the ones Duke City Wheelmen president Jennifer Buntz knows about.

Last month, a bike near Wyoming and Copper NE in honor of Benny Benavidez went missing. Witnesses say a homeless man feverishly jostled the bike from its moorings, then tried to ride away with it, despite their yelling at him to stop.

The bike was later recovered in a nearby field, its chain broken.

A ghost bike dedicated to Gabriel Garcia located at Edith and Hannett NE was reported stolen last week. (Courtesy of Jennifer Buntz)

Last week, a ghost bike on Edith and Hannett NE dedicated to the memory of Gabriel Garcia disappeared.

A few days ago, someone apparently tried to steal a ghost bike memorializing Jose Ruiz on N.M. 528 but only managed to get it partly freed from the anchor stake.

“My inclination is to think that the bikes might be stolen by people who don’t understand why the ghost bike is there,” Buntz said. “We had a bike taken from one spot and placed at a different spot because the person thought that second spot was more dangerous for bikes. He didn’t understand that the location is the spot where someone died.”

Friends and family pay tribute to cyclist Jose Ruiz with a ghost bike on N.M. 528 near where he was struck and killed in 2014 by Cory Lucero of Rio Rancho. Lucero was accused of talking on his cellphone when he hit Ruiz and later pleaded no contest and received probation. (Courtesy of Jennifer Buntz)

Also, she said, some people may think the bikes are rideable. They aren’t.

“They have no brakes, no tires, no gears, and some of the wheels are welded,” she said.

Damage or theft of other ghost bikes has in the past seemed more targeted, more personal, the damage done close to the anniversaries of the cyclists’ deaths.

So it seems a good time to remind you all that theft or destruction of ghost bikes is illegal, recognized as they are as descansos, which are protected by state law. A first offense is a petty misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail or a $500 fine; subsequent offenses are misdemeanors, punishable by up to 364 days in jail or a $1,000 fine.

Besides, it’s just mean.

“These bikes represent somebody’s loved one,” Buntz said. “These are memorials for somebody who meant something to a group of people who put this bike up for them, so please respect that, not just because it’s the law but because somebody died there.”

Pamela Wilson, Christopher’s mom, said it breaks her heart to hear of other ghost bikes that have been tampered with.

“It’s sad,” she said. “These bikes are meant for people’s loved ones who passed away. They have meaning. My son loved riding his bike. He paid for it himself with money he earned doing odd jobs in the neighborhood.”

Efforts to steal this ghost bike on N.M. 528 failed but still left it in bad shape. The bike memorializes Jose Ruiz, 25, who was struck and killed riding his bike on this road on Sept. 13, 2014. (Courtesy of Jennifer Buntz)

The ghost bike that now honors him had been Stanley’s, his brother, she said.

“Stanley gave up his bike and painted it white for his brother,” she said. “Maybe when people see it they will think of that. They will have more awareness to slow down, watch for kids on bicycles and adults. Too many are dying.”

This Saturday, the Wheelmen are expected to install another ghost bike, this one for Gregory Martinez, who was just 7 when he was struck and killed while riding his bike on April 8, 1994.

Think about him when you pass it. Honor him, respect it and, please, let it be.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.

 

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