MARY KATE MARKANO
Campus police say they hope the recent string of bicycle thefts has been broken with their arrest of 23-year-old Fredericksburg resident, Jack Sparks, on charges of grand larceny and obstruction of justice without force.
On Sept. 24, responding to a report of suspicious behavior at the UMW Apartments, police engaged Sparks in a high-speed bicycle chase through Fredericksburg, resulting in his arrest.
Police said Sparks has an extensive prior record, including a conviction in August for possession of marijuana. In 2004 he was found guilty of assault and battery on a police animal, obstruction of justice, and trespassing. He paid over $500 in fines for the previous offences.
So far this fall, 15 UMW student-owned bikes have been stolen; a significant jump from last semester’s three. Sparks is only being charged relating to the incident of his arrest.
Residents of the UMW Apartments reported seeing two men removing locks from bikes parked in the apartment courtyard. Campus police responded immediately.
Sgt. Sharon Mullen, driving a UMW police Ford Explorer, spotted Sparks cycling down College Ave. toward Hanover St. Another suspect abandoned his stolen bicycle and ran away on foot.
Mullen, unable to pursue the bicycle in her vehicle, called UMW bike officer Joseph Gagliardi, and directed him toward Sparks.
Gagliardi first spotted Sparks on the corner of College Ave. and William St., and gave chase.
“A bicycle is a vehicle in Virginia, and after he illegally ran a stop sign, I had reason to stop him,” said Gagliardi, “I have blue lights and sirens on my bike, so I turned them on, and he kept pedaling.”
Throughout the chase, Gagliardi radioed for backup. He said that when the two reached the Fredericksburg Dog Park on Kenmore Ave., he yelled, “Either you have to stop, or I have to stop you.”
When Sparks did not stop, Gagliardi followed him onto the Canal Bike Path near Route 1, where Fredericksburg police joined the pursuit. Gagliardi estimates that the chase continued at speeds ranging between 15 and 18 mph.
Gagliardi, one of the oldest members of the UMW police, finally initiated a “controlled crash” of the two bikes. He then tackled and restrained Sparks, who did not struggle.
He was later charged with grand larceny, obstruction of justice without force, and failure to obey highway signs.
The bicycle that Sparks was riding at the time of his arrest was a Trek-72 valued at $200. Police also charged him with the theft of a second bike which they said Sparks’ accomplice initially took and then abandoned when he ran off.
Though police hope Sparks’ arrest will reduce the number of bike thefts on campus, their reports indicate that two more bikes have been stolen since.
Junior Andrew Stempel was one of the students whose bike was stolen this fall.
“It’s astonishing that so many bikes have been stolen since the beginning of the semester,” said Stempel, “The lock on my bike was cut, so someone was obviously walking around with a pair of bolt cutters or some kind of cutting device, which also makes it frustrating that no one saw someone cutting the lock or walking around with bolt cutters.”
Stempel discovered that his bike had been stolen from the bike rack in front of Goolrick Hall. “That bike took me eight months to build,” he said. “I bought every piece and put it together.
Several students whose bikes were stolen earlier this semester said the thefts appeared to be the work of professionals.
Another student, junior Ryan Gentile, said his bike was taken on Sept. 11 from the stairs near Willard Hall.
”Whoever stole it cut right through my lock with a pair of bolt cutters,” Gentile said. “They methodically picked it out from the six other bikes locked up right next to it. I was completely crushed when I realized it was stolen. It was the worst feeling in the world. It was the first bike I’ve had since I was a child. I had only had it for a few weeks.”
Today is Spark’s first court appearance. He could face a maximum sentence of 20 years on the grand larceny charge.
The other suspect is still at large.