SALEM — Police in Salem and Beverly have been dealing with a rash of thefts of bicycle racks — racks with no bikes on them.
Fortunately for one victim, who had an expensive, Swedish-built Thule rack system stolen from his vehicle, keys to the rack's locks proved to be the key to solving the theft.
Police reports show three rack thefts in Salem between Saturday and Tuesday and two in Beverly on Tuesday. The racks and accessories can cost upward of $1,000.
On Wednesday afternoon, Salem police detectives investigating the incidents arrested Luis D. Suarez, 21, of 22 Prince St., Salem, and charged him with receiving stolen property worth more than $250.
Police found the rack matching one of the victim's descriptions perched on the roof of a gray, 1995 Honda Civic belonging to Suarez's girlfriend, Abigail Gonzalez, police said. Suarez was known to police to drive her car.
Detectives identified the rack as stolen by matching the serial number of the keys to the rack and a description of rust on the side and an oval sticker on the front.
Yesterday, Suarez was arraigned before Judge Joseph Jennings in Salem District Court, where he pleaded not guilty. He has a pretrial conference on Sept. 14. His girlfriend will be summonsed by mail on the same charge, and both are scheduled to appear on the same day, Salem police prosecutor Lt. Conrad Prosniewski said.
"It seems to be the new trend all of a sudden," Prosniewski said of the bike rack thefts. "We don't know if it's one person or many persons."
But like thefts of GPS devices or cellphones, "there has to be some sort of conduit for the thief to sell it off pretty quickly."
Thule racks can cost hundreds of dollars; prices vary according to the rack model and the kind of car it is attached to.
"They are very expensive, depending on what it is," said Josh Johnson, the manager of Western Cycles in Danvers Square. A simple rack, called a tray, that carries a bicycle and attaches to the bars at the top of a car can cost $180, Johnson said. Racks that attach to a trailer hitch can cost from $160 for a single bike to $470 for multiple bikes, according to Thule's website.
Another expense comes from the equipment that attaches to the top of the car. Depending on the type of vehicle, foot pads can cost $175 or more. The foot pack and roof bars for a 1995 Honda Civic, for instance, retails for $375 to $465, according to Thule's website. Six lock cylinders can cost $80. Put on a tray or two, and it can add up.
"When all is said and done, you are looking at $400 to $600 with all the equipment," said Doug Mahegan, the manager at Marblehead Cycle.
"Nowadays, you can steal them and sell them on eBay and Craigslist, slightly used — that's what I would guess," said Chris Finn, the owner of Marblehead Cycle.
"They are high-value and probably easy to take," said Dan Shuman, the owner of Salem Cycles on Washington Street. "It's metal, so people can sell them as scrap metal or sell the whole thing."
Shuman said thefts of bike racks are rare because the racks vary depending on the make and model of the vehicle to which they are fitted. In other words, a thief would have to target a certain type of vehicle to get just the right rack.
Shuman said he has heard of racks being stolen with bikes on them. Last year, his fiance's bike rack was stolen from a vehicle parked in the lot of the former St. Joseph Church.
Suarez was arrested after Salem detectives looked into thefts over the weekend, one on Endicott Street and one reported on Butler Street, both on Saturday.
On Tuesday, a Thule roof rack was stolen off an Audi parked at a residence on Essex Street. This rack was taken despite its lock.
The same day, Beverly police got two reports of roof racks stolen, one from a vehicle on Bridge Street and one on West Dane Street.
The victim of the Endicott Street theft told police his rack system was valued at $1,000 and was capable of mounting two bicycles and a ski rack. It also had locks.
Salem detectives keyed into Suarez as a suspect after they got a good description of one of the racks from one of the victims.
He also provided detectives with six keys that belonged to the rack. Detectives John Doyle, Dennis Gaudet and Sgt. Harry Rocheville located the rack on a Honda Civic, with New Hampshire plates, parked across from 22 Prince St., according to court documents. The roof rack fit the description from the victim, and its locks' serial numbers matched those on the keys.
The Civic was registered to Gonzalez, but police knew it to be a car driven by Suarez. Police staked out the car and at 2:10 p.m. Wednesday saw Suarez walk up to the car, unlock the door and get in. Rocheville and Gaudet then arrested him.
According to court documents, Suarez told police he'd bought the rack in Middleton, through Craigslist, on Tuesday afternoon, then brought it home and put it on the car. Then he asked for a lawyer.
Western Cycles' Johnson has a suggestion to thwart rack thieves, since the racks' locks can be broken. Owners should replace the so-called "speed screws" that make it easy to attach the rack to car with hardware that requires a wrench to tighten and loosen them.
Staff writer Julie Manganis contributed to this report.