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Brazen Berkeley Bikejacking Latest in Spate of Robberies Targeting Cyclists

BERKELEY (KPIX) -- It was a frightening experience for three coaches and two students on the Berkeley High School Mountain Bike team Saturday. Police say two robbers carjacked them for their expensive bikes mounted on a minivan.

It was the latest in a series of armed robberies targeting bikes which have put the East Bay cycling community on edge.

The robbery occurred Saturday April 16 just after 3 p.m. near Eighth and Virginia Streets in Berkeley. The victims had just returned from a practice ride near Napa.

"We were certainly followed. I don't know how long we were followed," said Coach Dan Leaverton, who was driving his Honda Odyssey.

Leaverton thinks the robbers spotted his van carrying the the bikes and followed them as they dropped off Berkeley High Student Kalu Caldas. Caldas had just taken down her bike from the rack when the thieves pulled up.

"Two of the coaches were outside helping to get my bike off and a white sports car just drives up really fast, stops abruptly behind us and two men in ski masks come out of the car and one of them pulled out a gun and says 'don't touch that!'" Caldas recalled.

Leaverton said there were four mountain bikes mounted behind the Honda Odyssey and another bike inside the minivan.

"He was holding a gun, wearing a mask so this was very unfamiliar and intimidating," Leaverton said.

"After I saw the gun, I got a sense of the danger and I guess 'fight or flight' kicked in and so I ran behind this fence," Caldas said.

"He tugged on my shirt. Once I saw the gun, I just got out," said Berkeley High senior Torsten Vasquez Gullone who was inside the van.

One robber took the wheel of the minivan and sped away with four bikes, including Vasquez Gullone's Santa Cruz bike, worth roughly $5,000.

"I was kind of blank. It was shocking, a bit of out-of-body experience," said Gullone.

They said the other robber dragged Caldas' bike for about 50 feet before letting go. That robber apparently couldn't get the bike into the white sports car he was driving. Caldas was able to retrieve her bike but the front tire was damaged.

Police say that, typically, cars used in robberies are stolen.

"After I got inside (my home), I just hugged my dad and I said 'why are people like this?' It was really confusing to me why someone would feel the need to do that," Caldas said.

Leaverton lost the carbon fiberglass bike he had recently bought. He said the bike was worth about $6,500. Altogether, the victims said the four stolen bikes were worth about $20,000.

Berkeley High Mountain Bike Team head coach Nick Hoeper-Tomich was in another car and wasn't involved in the robbery. The team wants to alert the public about this latest crime trend.

"A lot of these folks just sort of see it as a payday. They may have been just driving around and they saw 'oh, bikes, that equals cash,'" said Hoeper-Tomich.

Oakland police reported a series of robberies targeting mountain bikes in the Oakland Hills in late March and early April.

Berkeley police will be working with Oakland PD to see if the cases are connected.

Hoeper-Tomich has started an online fundraiser to help the victims replace their bikes.

Safety advocates say that, given recent robberies involve guns and target small groups of people, the best advice is to ride in large groups and put a tracking device on your bike.

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