Minutes after learning his daughter's Honda 50-cc mini dirt bike had been stolen in Kuau last month, Guy Lawrence recognized the distinctive sound of its engine approaching on Lono Avenue in Kahului.
"Even though the guy was flying past the house, that was Jennifer's bike," he said. "I know the look of the bike."
Lawrence jumped in his truck to try to chase the bike but couldn't see which way it had gone. He called his wife, Cheryl, who passed the word to their son, Mitchell. In separate vehicles, the three began driving through side streets in Kahului to look for the bike. Soon after, Mitchell and his mother had stopped their vehicles on Lanai Avenue to confer when he spotted the bike heading his way behind his mother's car and turning onto Kauai Street. Mother and son managed to get the bike operator to stop and Guy Lawrence also arrived in the area. They called police, who arrested Johnny Bailey, 22, of Haiku, who was charged with unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle.
Jennifer Lawrence’s 2004 Honda 50-cc dirt bike was recovered Aug. 31, about an hour after it was discovered to have been stolen from Kuau. Her father saw the bike on Lono Avenue in Kahului before her brother stopped the bike on Kauai Street and police arrested the operator.
GUY LAWRENCE photo
"Unreal," Lawrence said, describing how the bike was found so quickly that while officers in Kahului were arresting Bailey, other officers were in Kuau still gathering information to complete the stolen bike report. Bailey was released later that evening after $1,000 bail was posted, police records show.
The dirt bike, stolen the afternoon of Aug. 31, was among 17 stolen this year along with 92 mopeds and motor scooters, according to Maui police statistics as of Wednesday.
While some of the stolen vehicles have been found, the majority aren't, police said.
Rising gas prices may be one reason for the dirt bike and moped thefts, which have been occurring throughout the island, police said. Many of the thefts appear to be crimes of opportunity, with owners leaving keys in the ignition while expecting to be away from the vehicles for short periods of time, police said.
Many of the mopeds are parked at malls or outside apartment complexes when they're stolen, police said.
To try to prevent theft, the American Crime Prevention Institute recommends locking the ignition and removing keys, noting that many motorcycle thefts occur when the ignition is shut off but not locked, said Lt. Wayne Ibarra, Maui police spokesman and certified crime prevention specialist.
It's also recommended that owners lock motorcycles together if traveling with other riders or lock a motorcycle to a stationary object that can't be easily dismantled if riding alone. The institute also recommends using a high-quality motorcycle lock and chain and securing the chain through the motorcycle frame rather than the wheels, which can be easily removed.
Owners also might consider adding a motorcycle anti-theft or security system and keeping a motorcycle in a secured location, such as a garage or storage shed. Some alarm systems can transmit a signal to a cellphone or pager if the motorcycle is tampered with.
The institute notes that "motorcycles are relatively easy to steal," with an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 motorcycles stolen annually nationwide. The vehicles are sold intact or stripped down and are often sold on eBay or Craigslist, according to the institute.
In Lawrence's case, the 2004 Honda 50-cc dirt bike had been covered in a garage at Jennifer's boyfriend's house at the end of a private road in Kuau so he could fix it, Guy Lawrence said.
He estimated the value of the bike was at least $3,000 because of after-market parts including a gold back swing arm and skid plate, longer forks and graphics on the gas tank. His daughter has had the bike since she was 11 years old. "She took really good care of it," Lawrence said.
The bike had been stolen sometime between 3 and 5 p.m. Aug. 31.
Lawrence learned about the theft at 5:45 p.m. when he called his wife. "I was bummed out about it, thought we were never going to see it again," he said.
Ten minutes later, he had seen the bike in Kahului and was in his truck trying to chase it. At 6:07 p.m., he was talking on the phone with his wife when he heard their son chasing after the bike and shouting at the operator to stop.
"Once we seen it in one piece, I was so glad," Mitchell Lawrence said. "I was shocked to get it back that fast."
"Everything lined up at the right time," Guy Lawrence said, including the fact that he happened to be at his in-laws' house on Lono Avenue, trying to remove window tint from a car. "It was a team effort. Networking really helps sometimes in getting the word out fast. Everything worked out good."
While the Lawrences don't know the man who was arrested, Guy Lawrence said his daughter's boyfriend recognized the suspect's photo as someone who used to visit a house on the road where the bike was stolen.
When he first saw the bike in Kahului, Lawrence said the suspect had been alone. But when the bike was stopped, the operator was with a child who appeared to be 5 or 6 years old, Lawrence said.
He said the suspect reporting buying the bike by email on Craigslist and said the laptop used to make arrangements for the transaction was at his girlfriend's house in Lahaina.
The only damage to the bike was about $100 for an ignition wire that was cut to start the bike.