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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary | The Regional

A Girl's Stolen Bicycle Is Returned--21 Years Later

September 14, 2000

HUNTINGTON BEACH — It was a special Christmas gift for a 9-year-old girl. But when the bicycle was stolen more than 21 years ago, little Wendy gave it up for lost.

Until this week.

Police found that a bike seized from a homeless woman belonged to Wendy Rincon. And on Wednesday, Rincon--now 30 years old--got to jump up onto the saddle of her long-lost 26-inch Schwinn cruiser for the first time in two decades.

"I was shocked when my dad called and told me," Rincon said.

Police confiscated the bicycle on Monday when they arrested a homeless woman who was using it to carry shopping bags crammed with her belongings, said Huntington Beach Police Lt. Chuck Thomas. The woman told officers she paid $12 for the bike years ago, and there is no evidence she knew it was stolen, Thomas said.

At first detectives didn't give the bike a second thought. The spokes were rusted. The blue paint was fading. The chain guard was missing. And the seat was in poor condition. Stickers covered the frame.

In fact, officers were planning to return the bike to the woman from whom they had taken it when Det. Mike Williams decided first to give it a good check.

Underneath the handlebars, Williams managed to make out a California driver's license number engraved in the metal. The clue eventually led to Wilkinson's daughter, Wendy Rincon.

On Wednesday, Rincon recalled the joy she felt the first time she ever saw the bicycle on that Christmas morning. But months later the bike disappeared from in front of a sporting goods store.

"I was absolutely devastated," she recalled.

The bicycle--which was originally a shiny, metallic blue--was stolen by a thief who cut through the cable attaching the bike to a fence. The beach cruiser was an expensive loss, costing Rincon's father $200 back then.

Wilkinson said he will sandblast the rust from the wheels and restore the rest of the bike to its original condition.

Meantime, Rincon said, "My parents are going to keep it in the shed."

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