On Saturday April 16, several members of the Berkeley High School (BHS) Mountain Bike Team were robbed at gunpoint in North Berkeley.
The group consisted of three coaches and two student-athletes who were returning from a practice in Napa in their minivan loaded with bicycles and other expensive equipment.
While unloading a student-athlete’s bicycle in front of her house on Virginia Street, the group was confronted by two men wearing full-face ski masks, one holding a gun, according to Coach OT. Both men emerged from a white car.
“All of a sudden, I can hear a voice saying, ‘Don’t touch it, leave it alone,’” said Russ Fairles, one of the team’s coaches.
“I’m thinking, ‘Why is someone saying something about how we’re taking the bike off the back? Why would a passer-by be critiquing [us]?’ And that was when I realized that he had a gun.”
After pushing the students out, one of the two men drove off in the minivan still loaded with four bicycles, while the other attempted to fit the fifth bicycle — which had just been removed from the rack — into the white car they arrived in, according to Fairles.
When that didn’t work, he drove with his door open, one hand clutching the bicycle, but dropped and ran over it shortly thereafter.
“He drove partway down the street, and then dropped the bike, and turned the wheels so that he could drive over the bike,” Fairles said. “You could hear it crunch as he drove over it. Almost as if [saying]: ‘If I can’t steal your bike, I’ll just destroy it so you can’t even enjoy it.’ That sort of told me about the mindset of the people doing this.”
The minivan, four bicycles, mountain biking equipment — such as helmets and shoes — as well as electronics and other objects left in the van were stolen.
He estimates the total value of these items amounts to approximately $35,000.
Since the incident, the team has set up a GoFundMe to replace what was taken, and has raised over $26,000 so far.
Any additional funds raised will be used to purchase GPS trackers and other safety equipment.
According to Fairles, the event was “traumatizing” for everyone involved, as one of the men was carrying a weapon.
“As you can imagine, it was a pretty frightening incident. Not just the idea, but the act of someone waving a gun around,” Fairles said.
“Even if their intent was just to steal the stuff … waving a gun around is frightening because it means that they’ve got some sort of means to cause bodily harm. … So that’s a thought in your mind as it’s happening: ‘Are they going to hurt us? Is it going to get worse than just stolen things?’”
Fairles added that the community support has been a “powerful and positive reminder of the strength of banding together,” and Coach OT echoed these sentiments.
“There’s been a great outpouring from the community,” Coach OT said. “[I’ve seen] great camaraderie in terms of coming together as a group and as a community, to uphold each other and to support each other. … We’re also members of the Berkeley Bicycle Club, and [we have received] a lot of support from the members of that community as well,” Fairles continued.
According to Fairles, the police have not found the robbers yet. They were able to track them for a short period of time using the location of a phone left in the van, though.
Fairles described his concern that such a “brazen act” could take place in the middle of the day in Berkeley, in front of a students’ house with a crowd of people standing by, without consequence.
“Every day they don’t catch them, I’m worried that the message to other people who would consider doing harm like this [is] that it’s a low risk chance. You might get a lot of great stuff, all you have to do is wave a gun and take off with a van,” Fairles said.