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How a ghost bike ended up in TriMet's lost and found

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 18th, 2010 at 12:58 pm

A ghost bike from southeast Portland that was stolen and then recovered by a TriMet bus operator sits in lost and found at the Center Garage.
(Photo: Bob Cummings)

On Saturday night, someone tried to load a stolen ghost bike onto a TriMet bus. Unfortunately for them, that bus happened to be operated by Ryan Ferro, a 38 year old Portland resident who also happens to be an avid cyclocross racer and someone who cares about what ghost bikes symbolize. Here's what happened (as recounted to me by Ferro)...

"I just want you to know that that bike was put up for someone that was killed. It belongs somewhere else and it needs to go back."
— Ryan Ferro, TriMet bus operator

Ferro was driving the number 75 bus northbound on SE Cesar Chavez Blvd when he pulled up to the Belmont Library stop at SE Taylor. As a passenger began to approach the bus, he put a bike on the front rack. The bike old and in disrepair and was painted all white. It looked like a ghost bike to Ferro (the ghost bikes that marks the 2003 crash of Orion Satushek and Angela Leazenby are just two blocks away at SE 41st and Belmont). (Update: A reader has confirmed that the ghost bike usually just one block away at Cesar Chavez/39th and Salmon is missing).

Ferro confronted the man about the bike. "Do you know that's a ghost bike?" he asked. The man said no. According to Ferro, the man said his friend gave him the bike so he could fix it up. After that brief conversation, Ferro recalls, "He then bee-lined to the back of the bus, so I just closed the doors and kept driving."

Ferro was sure the bike was stolen, so he called TriMet dispatch to ask for help. Because there was no way to prove the theft and the suspected thief wasn't being unruly, dispatch advised Ferro that there wasn't anything he could do. Ferro says at that point he just kept driving and watching his mirror. "I thought he'd get off at some point and reclaim the bike." He drove all the way to St. Johns before the man got off and went to the front of the bus to pull the bike off the rack.

Ferro decided to open his doors and confront the man again, saying, "I just want you to know that that bike was put up for someone that was killed. It belongs somewhere else and it needs to go back." The man said once again that his friend gave it to him, but Ferro interrupted: "It needs to go back," he repeated. Then the suspected thief seemed to give in and went to lean the bike up against a nearby pole.

When Ferro protested that it didn't belong on the pole, the man finally confessed that he had stolen the bike. "I think he felt bad, but was afraid to admit what he did." Then, at Ferro's urging, the man loaded the ghost bike back onto the bus rack so Ferro could take it back to the yard (Central Station).

Not knowing what else to do with the bike, Ferro logged it into the lost and found room where it now resides along with a bunch of other bikes and various items.

Asked why he took such a stand for the ghost bike, Ferro told me, "I live in that neighborhood and I see it all the time. People need those reminders."

[Note: I have not checked the Satushek/Leazenby location, but I suspect this bike was taken from there. However, after comparing a photo of that location with the bike in this story, I'm not so sure. If anyone can positively identify the bike in this story, I'd really appreciate it.]

Update: Thanks to commenters below, it seems likely that this ghost bike came from Cesar Chavez and SE Salmon. One reader has confirmed that the ghost bike typically in that location is currently not there. Thanks to everyone for input. I'll try to return the bike tomorrow.]

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Comments
  • Zoomzit November 18, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    I know there is (or was) a ghost bike pretty much right at that stop, either 39th and Taylor or 39th and Salmon.

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  • mabsf November 18, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    That's what I was thinking too - it was there to commemorate a staff member of Movie Madness who was hit by a car while crossing the street, if I remember right!

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  • armando November 18, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    but if it's in the trimet lost and found, how can it be claimed? what will the accept for proof of ownership, and who is the owner?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 18, 2010 at 1:41 pm

      This is easily worked out thanks to Ryan, who has already informed the lost and found staff that I'll be coming for the bike.

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  • ark November 18, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Story gave me chills.
    He handled the situation exceptionally well.

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    • q`Tzal November 18, 2010 at 2:15 pm

      +5
      Kudos for to TriMet employee for dealing with a hairy situation in a calm, mature and ration manner.

      Truly an example for all who work with the public, especially those who's job retention is not influenced by customer complaints. He didn't have to behave in a civil manner and yet he did.

      Kudos.

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  • Portland Dog Runner November 18, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    There has also been a ghost bike very close to or at the intersection of 36th & Main for quite a few years. There is still a memorial there, not sure if the bike went missing or not - I've since moved.

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  • maxadders November 18, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    I almost feel bad for the thief. He needed a bike, and took one that he thought was abandoned. So what's more important-- memorializing the dead, or providing transportation for the living?

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    • rigormrtis November 18, 2010 at 2:40 pm

      Yeah, we should always rationalize theft.

      The poor meth addict needed to sell scarp metal, who cares if he took a sculpture from the park?

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    • wsbob November 18, 2010 at 3:12 pm

      "... He needed a bike, and took one that he thought was abandoned. ..." maxadders

      I saw nothing in the story indicating that's the reason the thief took the bike. Was he really that desperately in need of a bike to ride for transportation, or was he parting it out, or selling it for scrap? Could be any number of reasons he decided to steal it. There's no description of the thief's apparent standard of living or whether or not he had money, which may have been factors leading him to steal the bike.

      Ryan Ferro, the cyclocross/bus driver that interrupted this theft did a good thing. He did enough just in getting the thief to give the stolen bike back, but it might have been helpful to know more about why the thief stole the bike. Was his original explanation, to "... fix it up." the reason? People look for all kinds of ways to make a buck. Flipping, or selling parts to flippers might have been what the thief was doing.

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    • Perry Hunter November 19, 2010 at 8:22 am

      The living had feet, and apparently, bus fare.

      Well done, Mr. Ferro.

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  • thefuture November 18, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Top shelf Mr. Ferro, I'm happy to see this story on BP. I especially like that it was resolved, and the bike recovered without police involvement. That guy will hopefully think twice about stealing a bike again. I hope this story makes it out more than just on this site.

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  • Mork November 18, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I thought there used to be a ghost bike at the NE corner of 39th and Salmon. Last night I was getting a ride home in the rain and even commented that it was missing.

    I looked on Google street view and that stop sign is decorated but no sign of the bike. Maybe I'm misremembering.

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  • dutch November 18, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    call me a jerk but I wish the police could actually do something. Its not frequently that you catch bike thieves red handed. I dont think we should be letting them off when we do.

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  • Chris Shaffer November 18, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    My daughter and I regularly walk past the ghost bike on the NE corner of 39th and Salmon. The pole has been decorated for a long time, and the ghost bike has been there less than a year. It's hard to tell from the photo, but I'm guessing that's the most likely location.

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  • peejay November 18, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    It's 39th and Salmon. I live a block from that intersection. I remember the day it happened. There was a ridiculously oversized truck involved, the kind that people drive to compensate for a deficiency.

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  • Jolie November 18, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    I live at the corner of 39th and Taylor, and just walked out to check-- the ghost bike (which is normally at 39th and Salmon) is missing. The pole is decorated, but the bike is gone. I'm really glad that the driver went out of his way to stop the theft.

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  • Spiffy November 18, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    it's awesome that a bus driver put himself out there to ensure this memorial remained in place...

    and yes, it does look like one of the bikes in that dark photo... I wonder if they're both gone...

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  • Steve November 18, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Ryan is my neighbor and he told me about this the next day. Sounds like Ryan handled this situation with patience and compassion, traits I've come know Ryan for. And Jonathan wrote this story and a commentor knew where this bike should go. Man this is great.

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  • maxadders November 18, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    wsbob
    "... He needed a bike, and took one that he thought was abandoned. ..." maxadders
    I saw nothing in the story indicating that's the reason the thief took the bike. Was he really that desperately in need of a bike to ride for transportation, or was he parting it out, or selling it for scrap? ... People look for all kinds of ways to make a buck. Flipping, or selling parts to flippers might have been what the thief was doing.

    If it's a ghost bike, I think we can assume it's not worth parting out. And what's the going price for scrap steel? I don't see many scrappers bothering to drag one lowly old bike all the way across town via Tri-Met. They usually gather them in pickup trucks along with other random stuff, then cash everything in en masse.

    Who's to say that an angry home / business owner didn't cut the bike loose, and the guy in the story just found it unlocked, as disposed garbage? These bikes sit out for years at a time. While I support the project, its not known and understood to many people outside of the "bike community". To us, this is kind of like stealing a grave marker. To the rest of the world, it's just an another abandoned bike.

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    • wsbob November 18, 2010 at 4:05 pm

      It's really hard to know for sure why the thief decided to take this bike. That's why I wish he would have been asked to explain further.

      It strikes me that one of the worst things that can happen to a ghost bike, besides being stolen, is for them to be allowed to deteriorate to a shabby, uncared for condition. When that happens, any respect for the memory the bikes are hoped to evoke, and the plea for extra caution they're hoped to convey, is undermined.

      Maybe, rather than old junk bikes painted white and parked out at the site of fatal collisions for long periods of time, a more suitable and effective tribute could be conceived. One that wouldn't be quite so apt to be removed for various unofficial reasons, that connoted greater respect and offered less reason to steal.

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      • Sarah Sharp November 18, 2010 at 10:48 pm

        Perhaps someone can organize a "paint a ghost bike" day during pedalpalooza? Or a ride to distribute new dried/fake flowers to all the ghost bikes, lead by someone who can comment on how the city has and hasn't improved the safety of the location?

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  • el timito November 18, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    I can't really call this a feel-good story, given the overall amount of sadness it contains. But it does make me love Portland even more.

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  • Steve B November 18, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Are you touched by the work of Trimet Bus Driver Ryan Ferro? Join me in contacting Trimet with a commendation. Bus driving can be a thankless job, and this is a great opportunity to acknowledge the tireless work of drivers like Ryan!

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  • Josh Collins November 18, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Great story, Jonathan. Thanks for sharing it. Challenging someone who is suspected to have stolen property can be a risky thing to do, and not something that everyone would be comfortable doing. Bravo to Ferro for seeing to it that the bike was taken care of. Also, thanks to Steve B who suggests that he be commended. Operators truly value positive feedback. Unfortunately, it is often in short supply.

    Josh Collins
    TriMet Operations

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  • jim November 18, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Perhaps there should be a time limit for how long a ghost bike can stay at a location. It could be that the neighbors got tired of looking at it and removed it, perhaps gave it to this guy who probably did need a bike.
    Good job of handeling this situation by the driver though. It is an important thing to remember the fallen. Perhaps we can make a wall somewhere as a more permanent memorial with plaques or tiles or something?

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  • Charley November 18, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Ferro is one quiet hero.

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  • k-dub November 18, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    While I agree with the idea of the ghost bike, I live near the Noah Cardamon ghost bike and it seems to get vandalized on a regular basis (the handlebars have been stolen many, many times,) and that just makes me sad. It's like seeing a cemetery vandalized.

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  • Jessica Bucciarelli November 18, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Part of what I love about this story is the patience that Ryan exercised, and the passenger's gradual (and belated) movement toward doing the right thing.
    Thanks to Ryan for his actions and to Jonathan for telling the story.
    Jessica Bucciarelli
    (TriMet employee; not speaking on behalf of my employer)

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  • mello yello November 18, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    What these things aren't welded to make them un-ridable? Well shoot, I've got a welder right here.

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  • Diane November 18, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    Great job Ryan!

    Diane, a colleague and fellow cyclist.

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  • Anton November 18, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    J.Maus, can you do a story about Ghost Bikes? Like, who puts them up? Is there a group dedicated to them? What's the protocol for how they are attached to sign posts/poles? Is there a blog that tracks them by location? (There is a child's Ghost Bike in the NE I pass on the bus. I would like to know what happened there.) Thx.

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  • Steve B November 19, 2010 at 1:11 am

    The most definitive source of info for ghost bikes is http://www.ghostbikes.org/ You might also be interested in a documentary coming together about the worldwide impact & future of street memorials: http://ghostbikesfilm.com/

    In general, ghost bikes are ad-hoc memorials. It's up to friends, family or complete strangers to put them up for those who have died while riding their bicycle.

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  • Spiffy November 19, 2010 at 7:38 am

    wsbob and jim, I think it's a good idea to come up with a more permanent solution... I think a white bike-shaped rack with a plaque on it at the location would go a long way in being a useful reminder... paid for by the responsible party if possible...

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    • wsbob November 19, 2010 at 11:00 am

      A plaque is one idea, even one that might include a bit of city or advocacy contact info for citizens feeling moved by notice of the memorials, to learn about and take action to help correct dangerous roads and work for safer road use practices. Even though they mark a somber occurrence, any memorial outside of a cemetery should especially seek to also convey a message of hope and optimism.

      Nothing's easy. Even plaques mounted somewhat randomly (because who knows where and when fatal accidents will occur) as these would be, have their downside. Sign proliferation can be an issue.

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    • jim November 19, 2010 at 5:52 pm

      good idea Spiffy

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  • Ed November 19, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    what a nice story. thanks for posting.

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  • Marcus Griffith November 20, 2010 at 5:14 am

    Stealing a ghost bike is like stealing flowers from a grave... it's just wrong at such a basic level.

    Megan Wilbur, an independent film maker, is still working on her ghost bike documentary/project, updates should be available: http://www.ghostbikesfilm.com.

    Previous BikePortland article covered Wilbur's project, http://bikeportland.org/2010/06/14/filmmaker-visits-portland-and-vancouver-to-document-ghost-bikes-34940

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