ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The bike had been a montage, put together by friends and co-workers using parts of several bikes that Matt Trujillo, 36, owned before he was killed riding one of them four years ago this month.
It was one of the last things they could do for their friend, a man whose mantra had been, “Bike, ski, run, repeat.”
The bike, stripped and spray-painted white, was installed several weeks later at Washington and Indian School NE.
That intersection was on the route Trujillo took to work on the morning of May 12, 2011. He had the green light. He had on a helmet.
None of that mattered when a young woman sleep-deprived and strung out on crystal meth in a borrowed 1999 Nissan Pathfinder turned her eyes from the road to look for a dropped cigarette and barreled through the intersection on a red light and into Trujillo.
The white patchwork bike, called a ghost bike, commemorated the spot where Trujillo last breathed, without medical intervention. It was also a reminder of how quickly things can go wrong on the road when it is not shared.
And now that ghost bike is gone.
Leslie Kern, Trujillo’s mother, was the first to discover the theft. She had gone to place new flowers in the ghost bike’s spokes on the fourth anniversary of the crash when she saw it was missing, pulled from the spikes that had held it firmly to the earth. A plaque the family had added to the wheeled descanso was missing as well.
According to a police report, the bike was likely taken late May 10, a Sunday, or early May 11, a Monday.
It isn’t the first time Trujillo’s ghost bike has disappeared. Jennifer Buntz, president of the Duke City Wheelmen, which has installed all 30 ghost bikes across the state, including Trujillo’s, said a homeless man, possibly mentally ill, had taken the bike the first time it disappeared because he thought it should be at a different intersection that he believed was more dangerous.
Albuquerque police found the man and the bike, and the bike was returned, she said, only to be taken again.
This theft, Buntz said, feels different from that.
“There isn’t any reason to steal a ghost bike,” she said. “They are never ridable bicycles.”
Theft or destruction of ghost bikes is illegal. A resolution signed into law by Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry in 2011 recognizes ghost bikes 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.
What is most curious about the theft of Trujillo’s ghost bike is that it occurred so close to the anniversary of the crash. Another ghost bike – this one commemorating the site where cyclist David Anderson was run down March 22, 2010, on a bicycle path paralleling Paseo del Norte near Rio Grande NW – was vandalized on or near the anniversary of his death.
In March 2013, Anderson’s ghost bike was damaged three times. The bike’s seat and handle bars disappeared. Plastic flowers were yanked from the spokes. A nameplate was crumpled. Decorative rocks around the site were moved, one wedged into the bike chain.
“It’s like desecrating a grave,” Anderson’s widow, Sherry Anderson, said then. “It is adding to the pain of my family.”
Buntz said that it is rare for ghost bikes to be tampered with. And she wonders: Why these bikes?
“Is it a coincidence that Matt Trujillo and David Anderson were the two highest-profile Albuquerque cyclist deaths in recent memory?” she asked. “I don’t have an answer, but it does make me wonder.”
Buntz and Trujillo’s family are asking the public to be on the lookout for the missing ghost bike.
Meanwhile, friends of the family are also working with High Desert Bicycles to secure a mountain bike to replace the stolen ghost bike. The new bike will have extra measures to keep it in place, Buntz said.
There’s a special place in hell for those cruel and callous enough to mess with a grave, a descanso or ghost bike. The place where a loved one was lost is sacred ground, the symbol of that loss inviolable.
Even so, it’s the memory, not the marker that cannot be stolen, cannot be desecrated no matter how hard those thieves may try. So stop it.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.