Suspect in series of bike thefts in La Jolla neighborhoods is arrested

An image from surveillance video shows a man suspected of being a bike thief in La Jolla's Lower Hermosa and Bird Rock.
An image from home surveillance video shows a man suspected of being a bike thief who targeted several houses in La Jolla’s Lower Hermosa and Bird Rock neighborhoods.
(Courtesy of Frank Rampulla)

A 22-year-old man was arrested Aug. 30 and booked into San Diego County Jail on multiple counts of felony burglary and theft, many of them stemming from a series of incidents in which someone broke into La Jolla backyards and garages and stole bicycles and other recreation equipment.

The suspect was being held with bail set at $300,000. He was still in custody as of Sept. 2.

After a rash of thefts in the Lower Hermosa and Bird Rock neighborhoods in late spring and early summer, a thread of complaints started on local social media. Several people posted that their home security equipment had captured images of a man of similar description carrying out thefts in a similar manner.

After La Jolla resident Jeff Holman’s neighbor was targeted, Holman got involved in trying to track down the thief and have him arrested.

“My neighbors had their garage broken into in May and a few pretty nice bikes got stolen out of there,” Holman said. “We thought it was terrible.”

Then in the summer, apparently the same thief broke into Holman’s backyard. “I got a knock on my door in the middle of the night and it was two police officers saying there was a report of someone in my yard,” Holman said. “Neighbors had a video system and had documented that it was the same guy and what he did. It became a vendetta for me.”

Holman said the thief often targets the same house twice because “he knows the bikes will be replaced after he steals them, so he can just come back and steal them again.”

The bikes often are high-end, costing upward of $1,000, making stealing them a felony.

As residents became more aware of the threat, they became more vigilant. Multiple times a suspect was caught in the act and residents tried to contain him until police arrived.

“This guy is aggressive; he stays and yells at people when confronted,” Holman said. “We had him cornered once and told him cops were on the way and he stepped toward me with a lock-cutting tool and I told him I would hit him and he took off running.”

Judd Henke’s home was burglarized twice. “The first time, he stole a bike,” Henke said. “The second time, I was home. We heard the garage door opening and saw him and his accomplice stealing the bikes. I could see them and knew what was happening.”

After the two thefts, Henke installed home security cameras and spikes over the top of the gate leading to his yard and garage.

Then in a third attempt, the thief “rode right up to my garage because he knew exactly what to do,” Henke said. “But this time he saw the spikes and rode off down the alley to jump and scale my neighbor’s fence.”

Henke said the “violating” of the repeated intrusions bothered him more than the loss of the bikes.

“It’s one thing if my garage was wide open and my bike was there [and it was stolen],” he said. “But by jumping over a fence, opening doors with crowbars and bolt cutters, you feel violated. … He scared my wife and scared my daughter. I don’t care about the bike, I care about the violation of my space and my home.”

San Diego police did not immediately respond to the La Jolla Light’s request for comment and more information. ◆