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Commute Home Ends With Gunpoint Bike-Grab

by Paul Bass | Nov 1, 2013 4:07 pm

(20) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Parks, Transportation, Edgewood, Westville

Submitted Photo Dusk was settling in as Bela rode her bike home from work through Edgewood Park on Halloween night. A gunman hid in the shadows.

Bela, a 37-year-old post-doctoral researcher in psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine who moved to New Haven four years ago, was on her red and gold Trek FX7500 as she turned into the park at Chapel Street, her usual route, around 5:30 p.m. She rode downhill on the riding trail. (Bela is her nickname; she asked to have her legal name be withheld.)

Bela usually sees plenty of people in the park at that time of night night. Thursday evening she didn’t.

She approached the Edgewood Avenue underpass.

“As I went under the underpass of the bridge for Edgewood Avenue, I saw somebody jumping out of the side. He was hiding. He was about six feet tall. He looked to be in his early or mid 20s,” Bela recalled Friday.

“As soon as I got under the underpass he ran straight at me. I was going at full speed. He grabbed my handlebars.”

She stayed on the bike. They started wrestling. Bela called for help. No one was nearby to hear.

“Just let go,” the attacker commanded. She held on.

Then he pulled out a gun. He pressed it to Bela’s chest.

“I don’t want to mess. Just give me the bike,” he commanded.

Bela got off the bike. The man fled up a service road toward Edgewood Avenue.

Bela’s book bag had fortunately fallen off her bike basket. The bag had her phone. She retrieved it and dialed 911, walking up toward Edgewood. She saw the attacker ride off on Edgewood toward downtown. She informed the 911 dispatcher.

Cops in three separate patrol cars promptly converged on the scene, as did bicycle cops. They took Bela’s statement. The cops were courteous, she said.

So far the police have no suspects, according to top Westville cop Sgt. Renee Forte. Anyone with information is asked to call the police at (203) 946-6304.

Bela also asked Independent readers to keep an eye out for her bike. (It’s pictured at the top of this story.) She’d like to get it back. If you see it, please call the police number.

Forte said this is the first such attack on a biker or a jogger since a series of similar incidents that sent panic through neighbors and users of the park. Those incidents occurred about three months ago. Read about them here and here.

Bela didn’t commute by bike her first two years here. She worried about her safety. But then she decided “that’s not me.”

“I’m going to stay away from the park. I am scared and really shaken,” Bela said Friday. She does want to get another bike and continue commuting to work by wheels—on another route.

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posted by: Stylo on November 1, 2013  4:17pm

What a d-bag. For a bike?

There needs to be more police presence in/around Edgewood Park. Not to mention better lighting and cameras. I know people that are seriously considering leaving Westville, an otherwise very nice neighborhood, because of the crime that happens in that area.

posted by: TheMadcap on November 1, 2013  4:30pm

Kudos on not being scared off from bike commuting. Bella should keep an eye on craigslist, whoever stole it is probably going to try to sell it quick for cash.(I assume if someone just wanted a bike they wouldn’t commit armed robbery for it) Why has this park suddenly become so violent though?

Other cyclists, you should put a sticker or something on your bike, something unique to your bike that can mark it as specifically yours in case its ever stolen.

posted by: Edward Whalley, H.C.J. on November 1, 2013  4:41pm

This is unacceptable. 

Edgewood Park is a gem and an asset for neighbors in Westville,Edgewood,and West River.  We cannot allow these incidents to scare people out of our park.

Bela you have my sincere empathy.

We need input from all all area stakeholders including residents, WVRA, Friends of Edgewood Park, the Police Department, and the area Aldermen to make eliminating these assaults a top priority for our part of the city.

posted by: Westville voter on November 1, 2013  6:49pm

Neighbors have been trying in vain to persuade our elected officials to address crime issues in the park, particularly since the serial attacks in July. Our appeals have fallen on deaf ears, our emails have received no response, our concerns have been summarily dismissed. People are indeed considering leaving because of crime and the indifferent response to it. This is a criminal problem, but also a political problem. It is shameful that this beautiful park cannot be fully utilized because our elected officials refuse to make the slightest effort to address safety concerns.

posted by: cp06 on November 1, 2013  7:40pm

@TheMadcap
are you serious about craigslist? are you not aware of the multitude of trashy pawn shops? you are assuming that someone who would do this would also take the time to post on the internet (that they also may not have ready access to) and risk getting caught? put-leez!

regardless, this is unacceptable. thankfully, funding’s been allocated to rebuild the police department staffing numbers under the current administration. because both candidates are all talk about reducing expenses, what are they going to cut? one has already said lci..but when you get rid of the department are you also getting rid of the function? if not, then you are simply playing a shell game…merging departments (and maybe making things less efficient) but not really reducing staffing or expenses).

police? teachers? slash city staff? parks, public works or city plan?

i think i am starting to agree with some other commenters, “don’t know what you got till its gone”.

writing in a candidate.

posted by: newhavengill on November 1, 2013  8:20pm

Awful news.  I wish you the best Bela.

@Michael Pinto you are 100% right.  There is a problem in the park.  Why has there been no follow up by area officials from previous attacks?  Who or what is going to notify the residents of Westville when attacks occur?  What are the steps in place to prevent this from happening again?  Last time we had an attack, Officer Forte told us to be careful?!

posted by: Trustme on November 1, 2013  10:46pm

I’m glad Bela is safe, I couldn’t even imagine if that was my sister or girlfriend. There is not enough money to put police everywhere, all people can do is not put themselves in a situation where they can be easily victimized. Be vigilante, stay in lighted areas, don’t distract yourself (by texting, or speaking on the phone) do your best to not travel alone (walking or riding a bicycle), if something doesn’t feel right? Follow your instinct and go a different route. Be aware of you surroundings AT ALL TIMES. Most of my family members are females and i constantly tell them to be alert and I even have given my sister pepper spray, which she used it once when a scumbag tried to attack her, she ran away and was not harmed, the spray worked. I’m sick of this scum in New Haven and on Halloween night there was several robberies, which NHPD made several arrests quickly after the crime was committed. Most crime can be prevented, just stay sharp. Hopefully you get your bike back Bela, be safe out there.

posted by: Edward_H on November 2, 2013  2:01am

Any description of the suspect or lowlife?

“Bela didn’t commute by bike her first two years here. She worried about her safety. But then she decided “that’s not me.””

Seems like her original instincts were correct. There is nothing wrong with a woman riding a bike alone in a park to be worried about her safety. That’s common sense. Luckily she only lost a bike.

posted by: Stephanie FitzGerald on November 2, 2013  7:53am

It’s outrageous that Bella could not ride home safely! 

In response to the mugging in the park last spring, The Friends of Edgewood Park organized a Safety Team to address the issue.  You can join by signing up at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). We work collaboratively with the parks department and the police department.

The more people are in the park together using it in a constructive way, the safer the park will be.

posted by: WestvilleAdvocate on November 2, 2013  9:09am

What about an armed, citizen patrol like the one that occurred a few years ago in the Edgewood neighborhood?  I’m sure there are more than a few of us with permits that could band together and walk the park.

posted by: wendy1 on November 2, 2013  2:13pm

I too live near a beautiful city park that is dangerous after dark.  Even some of the homeless there have been victims while sleeping rough.  I talk to them because I am upset about the inadequate shelter situation.

My girlfriend on Dwight St. lost 2 bikes in 1 month stolen off the back of her car.  These bikes cost $1000 each and wont be replaced because she has given up.

City hall must demand more $$ from Yale Corp.  for more cops, more housing, more jobs.  Expect to see more CRIME because there are more desparate people.  The ONLY way for the city to create jobs is to hire locals for park and infrastructure repair like FDR post depression.  “Business development” is a joke only enriching businessmen (jackals) and providing few jobs with s—- pay.  Expect more crime.  New Haven,  get real.  It’s the economy, stupid.  The next mayor must have the spunk to demand what we NEED.  Better management sure, but cuts to the poor and hungry is spraying gas on the fire.  So far Yale is doing more firing than hiring.  Check the stats at the “job pipeline” 205 Whitney Ave.  I’m surprised people haven’t rioted in the streets.

posted by: Hill South on November 2, 2013  2:49pm

I am truly sorry for what happened to you, and am thankful that you were not injured. But let’s be realistic. In this day and age, in this city, everyone must be careful and mindful of their surroundings, irregardless of who you are or where you are. There are criminals looking for an opportunity ... this is what they do! You can’t expect that the police will be everywhere so it is up to you take every precaution possible. Don’t walk, jog or ride your bikes alone and in scarcely populated areas and especially at night. That is just the way the world is right now, and you do the best you can to stay safe. I’ve lived in NH all my life and I don’t take any chances with my safety. Too often I see single persons riding their bikes down the Farmington trail at dusk in the ‘Ville’, or walking around the YALE CAMPUS oblivious to their surroundings talking on their I-phones. NO - it is not the victims fault that they are victims, but we MUST take every precaution for our personal safety. ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy!’

posted by: teachermama on November 4, 2013  7:56am

The most constructive solution I heard mentioned in these comments was lighting.  Where should the lights go?  How many?  Who do we contact, directly, to lobby for this?  Give us some details and then we can take action.

posted by: FairHavenRes on November 4, 2013  9:29am

I love all the victim scolding here.  I also use a bike as my main form of transportation and I *should* be able to bike anywhere.  If I can’t, then we need to look at the reasons why and fix them, not blame me for trying to use my bicycle to commute.  Teachermama, to answer your question, the Parks Dept needs to install lighting and the NHPD needs to take note and routinely patrol.  The Parks Dept came back this morning and essentially said they had no funding or plans for lighting.  Here’s the open issue on SeeClickFix:  http://www.seeclickfix.com/issues/807601-very-poor-non-existent-lights-in-edgewood-park-under-the-bridge

posted by: Hill South on November 4, 2013  1:32pm

I agree with you FairHavenRes that you “should” be able to bike anywhere and have the expectation to be safe. However, until these safety issues of lighting, patrol and the removal of every possible criminal threat to the public, it would be wise to take precaution. After all, there are crosswalks in the streets and signs that advise drivers of cars to stop for pedestrians in crosswalk, and red lights and stop signs advising drivers to STOP ... yet for some reason pedestrians still get hit in the crosswalks, and cars still run the lights /stop signs hitting people or other cars. Why? Because people had the expectation of safety BUT could not be certain that the opposing force would adhere to the law. So we look both ways before crossing the street, we approach intersections with caution, and cyclists ... well, we pray for you. But what we DON’T do is powerplay with a 2-ton vehicle ... you will lose every time. So in the same light we don’t walk around city streets counting money in the open, don’t leave our car or our homes unlocked, don’t sleep with our first floor windows open ... we take precaution. You have a expectation to be safe, but YOU are ultimately responsible for YOUR own personal safety.

posted by: Trustme on November 4, 2013  8:34pm

Definitely not victim scolding from my comment and from some of the comments I read, you are so far off Fairhavenres. I feel terrible for what happened to Bela and i dont want it to happen again, but sadly most likely it will. Bela should ride her bike anywhere in this city, but the streets are not safe. And we all can have the best solutions, but without more officers and more money for lighting, etc, these crimes are going to continue. Well said Hill South.

posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on November 4, 2013  10:25pm

@WestvilleAdvocate My understanding is that licensed permit holders are NOT allowed to carry weapons in this park, concealed or otherwise.

posted by: Edward_H on November 5, 2013  1:29am

Westvilleadvocate

Law abiding citizens are not allowed to bring their weapons into any city park. If you do have a concealed carry permit as implied by your post you should know this. It is your responsibility as la permit holder to know when are were you are allowed to carry. If you are a permit holder then suggesting permit holders enter any city park with their weapon is irresponsible to say the least. Lawless suggestions like the one you implied just help those who wish to dismantle the 2nd amendment.

http://cityofnewhaven.com/Parks/ParksInformation/edgewoodpark.asp

FairHavenRes

I have not read one comment here that is “victim scolding”. Such histrionics are not needed. There are reasonable precautions people should take on an everyday basis. People “should” be able to engage in whatever legal activity they wish to engage in but reality is a different story. I grew up in 1980’s pre-hipster Brooklyn and I had 2 ways of getting home from school. 1) through a one way secluded narrow street 2) through a two way heavily populated street. Guess which way the adults suggested we take home? They did not tell us you “should” take whichever way you want. They instructed us on taking reasonable precautions in a high crime area. This nonsense of accusing people of"blaming the victim” only leads to more incidents as the one highlighted in this case because young people are lulled into thinking they can engage in whatever behavior they wish to because they “should” be able to. Due to your screen name it seems you live in probably the highest crime section of New Haven. If you wish to bike there that is your choice but don’t castigate others who seek to caution other citizens who choose to bike through dangerous areas.

posted by: Shamar on November 8, 2013  9:05pm

Bela, I am so sorry to hear of your unfortunate experience in the park!  May I make a suggestion? Please think about taking part in a class for personal protection. Possibly a class in the use of firearms. This is not something I think about lightly, but with the realization there is a lot of responsibility that goes along with this.
My reasoning is; the police are not there to protect you! They will be there to gather all of the pertinent information after the fact! The courts have ruled since 1978 that the police are there for the public in general, not for the individual! They ruled that the police, as well as the fire department, public works, in fact all government entities, cannot be held liable, unless there was gross negligence on their (the gvmnt entities) part! 
This means, through rule of law, that the only way to expect protection, is to provide it for yourself!
Why do you think the police no longer use the slogan “To Protect and Serve”? Years ago, the powers that be wanted to give the impression that they could do something for the people’s protection. All lies!
If not, how many criminals have been caught “in the act”, with the use of the “Shot Spotter”? All of that money spent, just to make some people “feel good” about stopping crime!
Why do you think the Founding Fathers put the Second Ammendment in the Constitution? It was for several reasons, one of which was the individual’s Right to self protection. A long time before a Government sponsored Police Dept, was even thought about!
Why, even the State of CT, Art1, sect15 makes it clear that a person can carry arms for their own protection as well as that of the state.
So, Bela, do yourself a favor and take a class to get your permit for concealed carry. 
After all, the “gun grabbers” like Dianne Fienstein, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer et al, can’t all be wrong for not giving up their permits and firearms!
Why, in NH, we have had police chiefs who were anti-gun, but that meant for honest people only

posted by: Shamar on November 8, 2013  9:24pm

For those of you who writing about not being able to have your firearms in the parks, let me ask a question:  When will we be allowed to take our streets/parks back?
If we keep making “gun free zones”, then this is where you will continue to find the criminals.
Don’t believe it?  Look at the Aurora theater shooter!  He went past several theaters, further from his house to target (pun intended) a theater that posted “Gun Free Zone” signs.  Why?  Because he did not want to get shot by an armed citizen! 
IF we allow, we will continue to make these “target rich environments” for the criminals! They need not fear anyone, as the police are still just minutes away. 
How long did it take for the police to arrive here?
The police still will not say how long it took them to respond in Cheshire.  We all know how that ended, with one cop sitting in his car, outside their residence!
So again, I ask you Bela, to look into getting your concealed carry permit, and carry it wherever you legally can.

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