NOVATO, Calif. - A shipping container filled with what is described as life-changing cargo has been stolen from a North Bay business.
The company’s CEO founded a charity that collects the donations here in Northern California, then ships them to various countries in Africa.
The man responsible for spearheading the effort to donate them says they may not have tremendous value here, but they are worth a lot to the people who were supposed to get them.
Early Sunday morning, surveillance video captured a white semi-truck rolling onto the parking lot at the headquarters of Mike’s Bikes in Novato.
Moments later, the rig is seen hooked up to a trailer, caught in the act of stealing a shipping container filled with 500 donated bicycles destined for Botswana.
"It was an absolute punch to the gut. Just devastating," said Ken Martin, CEO of Mike’s Bikes. "It's heartbreaking. It’s both disgusting and heartbreaking."
In a hasty departure, Martin says the driver failed to disengage the air breaks, leaving skid marks in the parking lot, and damage to the building.
That damage is what led to the discovery on Tuesday that the container hadn’t actually been picked up by the company hired to take it to the port of Oakland.
"So, it took us a little while to wrap our heads around the fact that my gosh someone actually stole the thing," said Martin.
Novato police have the license number of the stolen trailer with Oregon plate 27562, and have notified other agencies.
"If that plate is run anywhere actually in the country it would trigger that it’s a stolen chassis that that container is on," said Sgt. Matthew Waite-McGough.
Matin says all the bikes were donated by generous Northern Californians to The Mike’s Bikes Foundation, something he started more than a decade ago to help entrepreneurs in Africa run small bike shops and get bikes into the hands of more people.
The bikes are donated, then eventually repaired and sold at modest prices to help shop owners run their businesses.
Martin says he’s seen bicycles dramatically alter lives, including the life of a young man selling samosas.
"The ground he could cover riding versus walking changed how he did everything and he ended up growing to the point where he hired other people riding bikes, carrying around samosas and he became essentially the samosa king of Town," said Martin.
Martin says for fourteen years, his non-profit has donated about 37,000 bicycles in 74 different containers, all without incident, until someone took off with container 75.
"It's crazy that the worst incident in this entire supply chain to Africa happened right here in Novato," said Martin.
All indications point to the container being targeted, but Martin says he thinks the thieves thought they’d be getting their hands on a load of new, expensive bikes.
He’s urging anyone who thinks they may have seen the trailer and container will contact Novato police.