BELTON, Mo. — Those unfortunate enough to have their car stolen know all to well the odds of ever seeing it again are slim.
But the recent discovery of a motorcycle stolen seven years ago has prompted law enforcement to re-evaluate how stolen vehicles are reported, so that it won’t be so easy for thieves to get away with the crime.
“I came home from work, and it was missing,” said Rickey Trahan, referring to his 2003 Honda motorcycle that he rebuilt with his brother while he was in college.
It was stolen in 2013 from in front of the Belton apartment where he had then been living. He reported the theft to police.
For seven years he never heard a word — until now.
“I get a certified letter in the mail saying your vehicle has been recovered,” Trahan said.
The letter was from a tow lot where Trahan’s bike had been for more than year. The tow lot picked it up by request of the Missouri State Highway Patrol after it had been involved in a police chase.
Why didn’t police tell him his bike had been found?
“Highway patrol chased the bike and arrested the driver, but when we ran the VIN number, it wasn’t stolen,” said Cpl. Nate Bradley with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Bradley said most stolen vehicle records become inactive after four years. That’s a big problem.
“It occurs probably every day that law enforcement are running VINs for vehicles that they don’t know are stolen because the entry is gone,” Bradley said.
The reason lies with the National Crime Information Center database, which police use to check VINs every time they stop a car.
“What we discovered is that nothing has changed since 1967,” Bradley said.
That’s the same year then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered the creation of the database.
“Back then computerized record keeping was nonexistent,” Bradley said.
So it was ruled there should be a four-year limit on how long stolen vehicle records would be kept active.
But times have changed, and so should the database.
Bradley is working to convince the FBI to keep those records active for at least 10 years — so vehicle thieves don’t get a free pass after four and so that more victims get their property back.
“This bike had intrinsic value to him, so it’s our job to get it back in the hands of the rightful owner,” Bradley said.
The only way Trahan even learned his bike had been recovered was because the tow lot, Caster Towing, ran a title search. It was planning to claim the bike’s title since no owner had come forward.
“We had it for more than a year and a half,” said Aaron Caster, owner of Caster Towing. “We were crossing all our T’s and dotting all our I’s.”
That’s when they learned about Trahan and sent him a letter.
Unfortunately in Missouri, as in Kansas, the owners of stolen vehicles still have to pay for the tow and storage once they’ve been notified. After some intense negotiating between Trahan and Caster, Trahan got his bike back for $500.
The motorcycle had been painted, re-keyed and no longer runs, but Trahan still was glad to see it after seven years of waiting.