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Man Recovers ‘Dream Bike,’ Ambushes Theft Suspect : Crime: Purported buyer accused of stealing ’91 Suzuki. Owner spots it, awaits suspect and makes a citizen’s arrest.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rigo Fernandez calls the gleaming motorcycle his “dream bike.” He hated to put the 1991 Suzuki GSXR 750 up for sale last month. And when a purported buyer allegedly stole the bike instead of purchasing it, Fernandez was mortified.

Then the 20-year-old student and stock clerk from Carson spotted his stolen bike Tuesday outside the Torrance courthouse. After Torrance police staked out the bike for about an hour but then left, Fernandez enlisted the assistance of his 16-year-old brother, Edgar, and a courthouse security officer.

The two brothers staged a successful ambush and caught the alleged thief--even handcuffing him with a makeshift plastic tie.

The brothers’ efforts drew praise from the security officer who helped them. “I told them, ‘Very, very good,’ ” Officer Harold Baker said.

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The man they caught--Robert M. Bouffard, a 20-year-old actor from Hawthorne--was arraigned Thursday in Torrance Municipal Court where he pleaded not guilty to a charge of grand theft auto.

“I wish we had a camera to catch it. It looked funny,” Fernandez said of the capture.

Fernandez bought the new bike for about $7,000 only five months ago with money borrowed from a friend. Faced with a cash crunch last month, he reluctantly placed a classified advertisement to sell it. A few days later, Bouffard called him and asked to see the bike, Fernandez said.

Fernandez and police offered the following account:

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The two men met at a Hawthorne pizza parlor. Bouffard took the Suzuki for a short test drive, telephoning later to say he wanted a mechanic to examine it. He asked Fernandez to drive the motorcycle to the Galleria at South Bay in Redondo Beach and meet him at the Sweats & Surf surf shop. Fernandez parked the motorcycle and went to the shop on the mall’s third level.

Bouffard was nowhere to be found. When Fernandez went looking for his motorcycle, it was gone. He was stunned. He still owed money for the bike--and he had no bike to sell.

“My friends were saying, ‘You aren’t going to see your bike again,’ ” Fernandez said glumly.

But there it was Tuesday, parked outside the Torrance courthouse.

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“I looked at the plates. It was it. I put my key in. It fit,” Fernandez said, still astonished.

He contacted the courthouse security officer, who alerted the Torrance police. Officers stood by for about an hour while Fernandez searched the courthouse for the alleged thief. Finally the police left.

“They said, ‘Well, we’ve got things to do, we’re going to leave,’ ” Fernandez said. “I said, ‘I’m going to wait around.’ . . . Personally, I think that it was uncooperative of the Torrance Police Department not to stick around.”

Baker, the courthouse security officer, agreed: “I thought it was pitiful the Torrance police didn’t wait there.”

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In a police report, Officer Allen Tucker said he told Fernandez, “We were short on manpower and could not watch his motorcycle and wait for the suspect to return.”

Sgt. Ronald Traber, a department spokesman, said he assumes “we didn’t have the ability to establish a surveillance on the thing at that particular time.”

So Fernandez contacted his brother, who arrived with binoculars, walkie-talkies and the plastic tie. Baker joined the stakeout.

Bouffard emerged from the courthouse, allegedly approached the bike and tried to start it with a key. But Fernandez had disconnected an ignition wire.

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The two young men grabbed the suspect. “I told him I was making a citizen’s arrest,” Fernandez recalled.

Passersby were taken aback, thinking the brothers were trying to rob Bouffard, Fernandez said. “This old lady, she was ready to hit me with a purse.”

Baker said he escorted Bouffard to the courthouse, where he was arrested by Torrance police.

Now Fernandez has his dream bike back again.

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He is rethinking his plans to sell it and is working two jobs to pay off the debt.

“I might just keep it,” he mused.


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