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Lee County seizes and loses first grader’s bike

January 26, 2024
By Garland Pollard

Story updated 1-26. See editor’s note at bottom. 

Two Island School students, including a first grader, had their padlocked bikes impounded by Lee County over Christmas vacation, in spite of the fact that they lawfully were in the school rack, and the rack did not have any signage restricting overnight storage. 

After impoundment, the county left the bikes unprotected outside the Wheeler Road maintenance shed, where one was stolen, or missing.

Last week, the family spoke with the Boca Beacon about the situation, which had not been resolved. One bike had been found, but county staff could not find the other.

We have not named the family, as the boys are minors, and the situation is well known within the school.

The situation began on New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, when a ranger for Lee County Parks and Recreation issued citation PR-00010445 and put it on the bikes, which were padlocked. The ordinance listed was 18-27, 11.11, but the only mention of bike racks in the code is for designated racks, namely “no person shall leave a bicycle in a place other than a bicycle rack when such is provided and there is a space available.” On the citation, the other offenses are “Glass Container, Signs, Nudity and Intoxicating Beverage.”

Photocopy of the citation. The carbon had mostly washed out.

The parents did not see the citation; approximately 24-hours later, the bike locks were cut and the bikes removed. The county took the bikes to the Wheeler Road maintenance shed, where they were left outside the shed, unlocked. It was there that one bike, a Trek 16”,  with a value of about $300, was stolen.

The school was not notified, in spite of the fact that the bikes were clearly children’s bikes.

After inquiries with county staff, the parents retrieved one bike, but the other remains missing. The Boca Beacon reached out to Lee County on Monday about the missing bicycle which belonged to the first grader. Thursday, we heard back from Lee County.

“The stolen bicycle – as well as a second one belonging to the family – have been located,” said Betsy Clayton, communications director for Lee County, in an email. “Parks & Recreation staff has reached out to the family and is coordinating with them so the bicycles can be returned to the children.”

At press-time Thursday, the father was still in the dark, as no one had yet reached out yet to him about the return of the bike. There was not yet an apology, either.

“I have not seen it,” said the father. “Magically it shows up.”

He was not even sure about the condition of the bicycle, nor had he had any apology for the parks staff taking the bike from its rack. He said that the citation was not recorded with the county when he enquired about it, meaning that there was no chain of custody, nor ability to track the bikes. The mother said that the bike did not have an AirTag, though she wishes she had added one.

Adding to the mystery of why they were removed in the first place, is that there are no signs on the bike rack restricting overnight use, though a strict playground set of rules is just above it. The rack is of a modest non-commercial variety, and clearly for school use next to the playground. Lee County has a requirement of “prominent clearly visible signs” if it is a vehicle towing zone, and the law is explicit about what needs to happen when a car is towed, and the responsibilities of the towing company to protect the “vehicle” when in the care of a towing company.

Both parents have tried to keep a good sense of gallows humor about the situation, and remained cheerfully surprised at every turn in the saga. At each point, it has been a sobering reminder of what government can do for good, or not.

“They forget who they are serving,” said the father.

Editor’s Note:

The story has been updated to clarify that the county had talked to the parents about the situation before the bike was found, but had not heard from them about the return of the bike. It now reads: “At press-time Thursday, the father was still in the dark, as no one had reached out to him about the return of the bike.”

We received this important clarification information from the County:

“The father received two phone calls from Lee County staff and had two conversations. The first one was on speaker phone. It was the father and three members of the Parks & Recreation leadership team. The second call was between the father and one of our assistant county attorneys. She called him because he requested to speak with an attorney during the phone call with Parks leadership. Additionally, Parks leadership contacted the mother.”

We are delighted to make this distinction clear.