A thief broke into a U-Haul parked in a downtown parking lot early Tuesday and stole tens of thousands of dollars of mountain bikes belonging to a group of wounded veterans who had just arrived in Alaska to train for a race, according to Ride 2 Recovery, the nonprofit organizing the trip.
The five bikes stolen included one custom-made for Staff Sgt. Matt DeWitt, who lost both arms below the elbow to a rocket-propelled grenade while serving with the Army in Iraq in 2003.
DeWitt's bike, which police say is valued at $19,000, has controls that allow the double-amputee to shift with his knees and brake using his back.
"No one else can really ride it," he said.
DeWitt, who is visiting Alaska for the first time from his home in Weare, N.H., had only used the bike a few times before it went missing.
DeWitt and other riders in the 26-person group had arrived from all over the country Sunday and Monday to begin the mountain biking trip, which is being sponsored by the Tatitlek Corp. Participants are mostly veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, said Tiffini Skuce of Ride 2 Recovery.
Some suffer from traumatic physical injuries and others from less-visible illnesses such as PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, she said.
The group spent Monday riding the trails at Kincaid Park, said DeWitt.
That night, the bikes were locked in a U-Haul in the Sheraton Hotel's north parking lot in downtown Anchorage, according to Skuce.
They were last seen around midnight, she said. At 7 a.m., riders unloading their bikes noticed that the lock and some of the bikes inside the trailer were gone.
This is the first time the program had taken veterans to Alaska, Skuce said.
"It's heartbreaking because it's injured veterans who are trying to carry on and better themselves and then their bikes are gone," she said.
A staff member filed a police report Tuesday morning reporting the bikes stolen, Skuce said. As far as she knows there was no security camera in the Sheraton lot. Police say they're looking into the possibility of surveillance video.
Rentals have temporarily replaced the other bikes so riders can still train on trails in Anchorage and Cooper Landing for the remaining three days of the trip, Skuce said.
But the rentals aren't nearly as nice as the ultra-light, high-end bikes the riders were using, she said. And DeWitt, who is training for a long-distance, high-altitude mountain bike race in Colorado in August, isn't able to ride a rental.
The group heads to Seward on Wednesday to do some biking near Cooper Landing, Skuce said.
Police officers have been briefed on the stolen bikes but none have turned up yet, said Jennifer Castro, a spokeswoman with the Anchorage Police Department.
"Not a way to welcome them to Alaska," said Castro.
The missing bikes, according to the police report:
• A Dimondback Sortie alloy bike with the word "Thompson" on handlebars and Shimano electric shifting
• A custom "Stealth" Ride 2 Recovery bike
• A Raleigh Talus black bike with blue accents
• A Felt black carbon fiber bike
• A Canondale 29 white bike with black lettering
All the bikes have "Ride 2 Recovery" stickers on them, Castro said.
If you've seen any of the bikes call the Anchorage Police Department at 786-8900.
Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at email@example.com or 257-4344.
By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS