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Night Owl, Psych Major Nab Thief in Broad Daylight

By Vikram Chan-Herur ’17 on September 25, 2015 04:22 PM

REUNITED. Hugh Porter, vice president of college relations, is reunited with his trusty steed thanks to two alert Reed students. Photo by Vikram Chan-Herur ’17

Poli sci major Nicole Thompson ’16 and psych major Sidney Buttrill ’16 foiled a bike thief in the very act of velo-appropriation today, leading to the arrest of the suspect and the recovery of the bicycle.

Thompson was hurrying past the bike stands behind Eliot Hall on her way to the Public Policy Workshop just before 10 a.m. when she happened across an individual with a pair of “huge bolt cutters” cutting through a cable lock “like it was string,” she said. 

Trained in bystander intervention as a Night Owl, she confronted the would-be thief. “He mumbled an excuse about it being his dad’s,” she says, hopped on the bike, and attempted to pedal away. At this point, Buttrill, who was also passing by, sprang into action and held onto the bike’s rear basket, while Thompson alerted Community Safety to the theft in progress. The suspect then abandoned the bike and fled by foot across the Blue Bridge.

Within a few moments, three CSOs were on the case. Chasing the suspect on his Segway, CSO John Walsh intercepted him near Bragdon Hall and ordered him to sit down. Moments later, Director of Community Safety Gary Granger and Assistant Director Julie Houser appeared at the scene and stayed with the suspect until Portland police officers arrived.

Because the police cannot make an arrest until the owner is known, Granger sent an email to the entire school asking if anyone recognized the bike, a black Marin Hamilton. It turned out to belong to Vice President for College Relations Hugh Porter, who was pulled out of a meeting to identify his trusty steed.

The police identified the suspect as William Allen Hawkins, 31. He was arrested on charges of possession of controlled substances, interfering with public transportation, and theft in the third degree.

According to Granger, Portland police found needle caps in his backpack and Hawkins said that opiates were his drug of choice.

There have been at least three other bike and parts thefts this week from the periphery of campus. Granger says it is rare for bikes to be stolen from highly visible places like Eliot hall and suspects that Hawkins may have been responsible for previous thefts and got cocky.

Community Safety’s last GPS-tracked “bait bike” was also stolen by a heroin user and it is likely that Hawkins was stealing bicycles to pay for drugs.

Reflecting on her actions, Thompson said she was proud of herself for overcoming her reluctance to intervene, and was grateful that Buttrill was present to back her up.

Porter said that he has a better lock for his nicer bicycle, but that his commute bicycle was “not that fancy” and “didn’t think anyone would steal it.” However, the bike and its weak cable lock proved an attractive target for the thief.

“I don't know much about what happened today, but I am really pleased to hear that it was an alert student who interrupted the theft,” he said. “Although the whole experience was a bit surreal, I was not surprised to hear that a student intervened. I am often impressed at how resourceful, careful, and community-minded Reed students are. Thank you, Nicole and Sidney!”

Within hours of the incident, Community Safety received several requests to register bikes. Granger hopes the incident will spur more students, faculty, and staff to register their bikes using Reed’s new bike registration system, Project 529.

Community members may get free registration stickers from Community Safety at 28 West.