Caught in the act

Community effort leads to swift street justice for would-be bike thief

A thief with his eyes on Nick Bootman’s beloved bike ended up flat on his back.

A thief with his eyes on Nick Bootman’s beloved bike ended up flat on his back.

Chico has a serious problem with bike theft, with more than 200 bikes reported stolen annually for several years running. Sadly, once in the hands of a thief, few bikes are ever returned to their owners.

But 25-year-old Chico native Nick Bootman’s story is an exception. He retrieved his bike from a would-be thief with the help of concerned strangers, proof that good Samaritans still exist.

One afternoon, Bootman was visiting with his parents in City Plaza, having locked his bike to a metal structure nearby. The bicycle, a 1988 (“The same year I was born,” he noted) Dave Scott Iron Man Centurion, had tremendous sentimental value. The frame had belonged to his uncle and hung on the wall in the family garage for years, a subject of Bootman’s childhood admiration. In 2008 he finally asked his dad if he could have it, and spent much time and money converting the 18-speed to a fixed-gear and customizing the bike’s look. He said he babies the bike, and won’t even ride it in the rain.

On this particular day, Bootman stepped away from his parents to go to Jack in the Box. That’s when it all started.

“I was crossing toward the post office and my dad yelled, ‘Hey Nick, that guy’s got your bike!’” Bootman recalled. He looked up to see a man on a mountain bike, rolling his own cycle alongside, rounding the corner to head west on Fifth Street.

Bootman sprinted after the man, saying he ran as fast as he ever had in his life—no small claim for the athletic Bootman, who works as a personal trainer at In Motion Fitness. As he closed to within 15 feet, the man saw him coming and raced south on Normal Street with Bootman’s prized ride still in tow.

“At that point he was riding as fast as he could, and I knew I’d never catch him,” Bootman said. Then a man on a motorcycle pulled up alongside him and offered to help catch the thief. As Bootman continued running, a man driving a car also offered assistance and joined the effort.

Bootman found his bike around Seventh and Normal streets, where the motorcyclist later told him he’d caught up to the thief, who’d claimed he’d just bought the bike for his girlfriend’s Christmas present.

The man still didn’t stop, though, and neither did concerned community members. As Bootman and his dad—who’d also been chasing on foot and had now caught up to his son—headed back downtown, they saw a commotion in a Sixth Street intersection.

Bootman explained yet another passerby, this one on foot, had seen the pursuit and headed to the intersection, hoping to cut the thief off at the pass. His plan worked, and as the man rode by, the do-gooder ambushed the absconder with a “clothesline” across the chest.

“People who saw it said he’d flown like 10 feet off the bike and was rolling around on his back before he got up and ran away limping,” Bootman said. “He’d tried to steal a bike and ended up losing his own nice mountain bike, a bag of groceries—he just had three loaves of bread, which seemed weird—and a [portable music player] headset.”

When police arrived shortly after, Bootman said they thanked the citizens “for doing our job,” took the mountain bike, bread and headset, and left the scene.

Bootman said that, prior to the incident, he’d assumed “average everyday citizens” wouldn’t care enough to intervene, but the experience gave him a newfound faith in good Samaritans and community spirit.

And while Bootman said he regretted he has yet to buy the man who’d stopped the thief lunch or a beer yet, he also showed some sympathy for the thief.

“Maybe he was really desperate for money, or really into drugs,” Bootman said. “I was happy to get my bike back, but I still feel kind of bad for him.”