Bike safety, thefts a concern in South Bethany

At the height of the summer season, with bicycles almost as popular a mode of transportation as motor vehicles, the topics of bicycle safety and bicycle thefts were high on the list of concerns for South Bethany residents at the town council’s Aug. 14 meeting.

Officer Josh Rowley told the council of a number of bicycle thefts in the town in July, with most of the bicycles not recovered.

Rowley said most of the thefts had occurred at night, while the bicycles were being stored underneath homes, unlocked.

“If it’s in view, under your house, lock it,” Councilman Jay Headman advised.

Rowley noted that, while Bethany Beach residents and visitors typically lose about 200 bicycles every summer to theft, “We lose a few dozen and recover a few, but typically it’s in the winter, and they’re in the bottom of the canal,” he said of those recovered, but damaged bicycles.

“If you have anything you don’t want to lose, lock it up,” Rowley said, seconding Headman’s recommendation.

He said the pattern of bicycle thefts in July was to have a series of thefts over the course of two days.

“They’ll steal a bike and pedal along until they find a better bike,” he said of the SBPD’s theory of the crimes. “We get a call saying, ‘My bike is gone, but there’s another one here.’”

Rowley said the SBPD does exchange information on bike thefts with other nearby towns but noted that the area’s private communities don’t do anything like that, leaving the exact scope of the problem unclear and the ability to return bikes to their owners lessened.

He pointed out that the SBPD does have an engraving/registry program to help with recovery and returning stolen property to the original owners. Bike owners who want to participate can bring their bikes by the SBPD during normal office hours and have their bikes engraved with a tracking number that the SBPD can use to reunite a located bike with its owner.

Residents also remain concerned about enforcement of the state’s helmet law, which requires anyone younger than 18 to wear a helmet while riding a bike. One resident said he knew of a local girl who never wears a helmet and always responds to his reminders by saying, “I don’t have to wear it.”

Past efforts to enforce the law have been bogged down by the notion that the most common violators are visitors who may be unaware of the state law.

“Some people, renters, don’t know the law,” said Mayor Gary Jayne. “We can put the word out on the Web site and in the papers we send out with the rental licenses,” he added. “The police do everything they can, but they can’t do everything at once.”

Jayne said SBPD Chief Joe Deloach has stepped up his program to crack down on the problem, using brochures to inform the cycling public.

Rowley said the department hopes to do even more in 2010.

“It’s too late this year,” he said, “but we’re trying to obtain a grant for next year to buy bike helmets and keep them in the chief’s vehicle.”

“The biggest problem is the majority of people are weekly rentals, and it’s not good business practice, not practical, to follow an 8-year-old back to her house and talk to her parents,” he allowed.

Resident Jack Wise questioned that, saying, “You make it sound like people come here and never come back, and I don’t find that to be the case.” He suggested many renters return from year to year and would remember the helmet law if reminded by police.

Some have gotten those reminders.

“He is out there every day and makes 15 to 20 bicycle contacts every day,” Rowley said of Deloach. “But the last thing we want to do is have vacationers come here and we’re issuing tickets.”

Rowley recommended anyone regularly seeing a child cycling in South Bethany without a helmet call the SBPD and tell Deloach about them. Deloach, he said, would see if he can talk to the child’s parents and get them a helmet.

“If you see somebody without a helmet, call the police and tell them,” Jayne reiterated.

Police deal with reported Internet scam, trespassing

Rowley again noted pretty typical enforcement activity for the SBPD in July, with 74 complaints, including the bicycle thefts.

Other complaints included illegal fireworks, loud parties that were broken up, construction during prohibited hours on the July 4 holiday, a dog off-leash and loose on the beach, under-age consumption, and a vehicle driving on the beach after town maintenance personnel told the driver it was not permitted. Rowley said that driver drove on the beach anyway.

Additionally, Rowley said there was a theft of a cooler from underneath a home, a complaint of phone harassment by an ex-girlfriend, a stolen sign and an unleashed dog that ran into traffic on Route 1 and caused an accident.

Rowley also issued a reminder on Aug. 14 about Internet-based scams that can affect local people. He said one scam reported to police in July involved a local resident using Craig’s List to sell some patio furniture. The responding buyer told the owner they would send a check for the furniture and have movers pick it up.

The buyer sent a check for more than the sale price of the furniture and asked the seller to send the balance of the check back to the buyer – a classic scam, in which the check turns out to be fraudulent and the seller is left on the hook with his bank for the amount of the fraudulent check.

In this case, Rowley said the check was issued on an account claiming to belong to some part of the Canadian government.

“They didn’t fall for it,” Rowley said.

Rowley also reported police responding to complaints of trespassing at one South Bethany home.

“This has been an ongoing issue between rental users and their neighbors,” he said, with complaints that the rental users were using the neighbors’ beach items and deck, and riding bikes on their driveway. “The second the rental changes, something else happens,” he said.

Residents told Rowley they also have concerns about the enforcement of no-wake rules on the town’s canals.

“This is a tough thing to enforce,” said Jayne.

Rowley recommended residents keep an eye out for violations and be prepared to write down identifying information.

“Every boat has a unique tag number,” he said. “If you give it to us, we can most likely track it back. We can at least go talk to them, make them aware of the issue.”

Rowley said that, without a police officer or DNREC enforcement official on-site to witness the violation of the no-wake rules, enforcement is limited to reminding boaters about the rules.

No homicide, despite appearances

Finally, an apparent prank caught the eye of at least one South Bethany resident.

Councilman John Fields quizzed Rowley about an apparent crime scene he spotted on Aug. 12 on South Ocean Drive, complete with yellow crime-scene tape surrounding a black SUV and a chalk-mark outline of a body.

“It seemed very professional,” Fields said of the scene.

Rowley said he was unaware of the specific incident but that it was “not something we would do.”

“They were probably trying to save a parking spot,” joked Town Manager Mel Cusick.

“There was no homicide,” Rowley assured with a smile.