AKRON (AP) — Jim Cool crouched in his Firestone Park driveway on Tuesday to help three kids fill two flat tires on a bicycle.
Cool didn’t know the teens. Young people in the Akron neighborhood often stop and ask Cool for help with their bikes when they see him working on cars in a garage next to his house on South Main Street.
Until now, Cool has always helped.
But Cool said Thursday that’s over. He found out one or more of the kids with the bikes Tuesday might be responsible for a neighborhood crime wave.
A watchful FedEx driver posted a video of the three on his Facebook page Tuesday, saying he witnessed them steal a package he delivered to a Firestone Park home the day before. The driver, Caleb Layer, wrote that he followed the teens for about 20 minutes Tuesday taking a video with his phone. Layer’s video never shows the three teens with the alleged stolen package or doing anything illegal.
“Since (police) likely will not do anything, I want to spread this on social media so the community is aware of these thieves,” Layer, who declined to comment for this story, wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday when he posted the video.
By Thursday afternoon, the video had been viewed more than 242,000 times, leading other Firestone Park residents to call police reporting several crimes, including a family who said they own the bike in the video with the flat tire.
They said they believe the bike was stolen from their East Ralston Avenue garage Tuesday shortly before the teens showed up at Cool’s house around the corner to get air in the bike’s tires. They didn’t report the bike theft at the time because it was small and because they know Akron police are swamped with more serious crimes, a woman who made the report said Thursday.
But after seeing the video and hearing that other neighbors had problems, too, the woman said they called police.
Officers on Thursday also took a report from an East Catawba Avenue family who said someone stole three bicycles from their garage Aug. 17. On the same day, a mother and daughter from the family said they spotted a large group of teens riding bicycles — including two of theirs, a Huffy and a Murray — over a nearby bridge that crosses the freeway.
The mother and daughter confronted the teens and one left the Huffy, but another teen refused to turn over the Murray, saying his grandfather gave it to him. Later that evening, the father of the family was at Heinz-Hillcrest Park and saw a teen on the Murray bike.
The father, a police report said, confronted the teen, who punched the man in the face and broke the man’s middle finger when the two got into a “tussle” over the bike.
The report did not say why the family waited a week to call police, and the Beacon Journal did not reach the family Thursday.
How many other Firestone Park residents may have been victims of similar crimes is unclear.
Akron police spokesman Lt. Rick Edwards said some people may not contact police because they don’t want the hassle if they know their home owner’s insurance won’t cover a loss. Police, however, want Akron residents to report all such crimes so investigators can spot patterns or surges in particular areas.
Investigators, meanwhile, have homed in on the FedEx driver’s viral video, too.
Edwards said investigators suspect one of the teens shown was also featured in a drugstore surveillance video police posted on their social media site trying to solve a robbery that happened in June.
In that case, a man trying to sell his iPhone online met a buyer at the Walgreens store on South Arlington Street near Wilbeth Road. After the man handed the buyer his phone, the buyer punched him in the face and ran away with the device.
Police also wonder if any of the teens from the FedEx video may have swiped the bike of an 89-year-old Firestone Park man who left his wheels parked outside Marc’s on East Waterloo Road this month. Police felt so bad about the loss, Chief James Nice and other officers last week presented the man, a retired Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. employee, with a new Huffy, helmet and bike lock.
The mother of one of the teens called police Thursday after seeing the FedEx driver’s video, Edwards said.
The woman confirmed it was her son and made arrangements for the teen to meet with detectives Friday, but said her son had done nothing wrong.
On Thursday, Jim Cool said he’s finished helping neighborhood kids with their bicycles.
He never saw the FedEx driver videotaping him with the kids and the allegedly stolen bike Tuesday and only found out they were accused of taking a FedEx package after a friend of his girlfriend’s saw the FedEx driver’s video on Facebook.
About 11 hours after filling the stolen bicycle’s tires with air, Cool said he was jolted awake by Akron police pounding at his door.
It was 3 a.m. and his neighbor called 911 after hearing glass shatter and finding his car windows smashed out and a $500 Coach purse missing. Police, Cool said, found his neighbor’s purse behind a trash bin and noticed a hole smashed into the window of Cool’s garage.
Thieves had stolen a four-wheeler and two dirt bikes Cool bought for his grandchildren.
Cool is certain the teens he helped hours before are to blame, coming back to steal what they saw as he filled the bike tires.
Police recovered the four-wheeler abandoned with a dead battery not far away. Cool has posted pictures of the missing dirt bikes, along with a $500 reward and his phone number, on his Facebook page.
So far, no one had called him Thursday, but Cool — who launched his first Facebook page about a month ago — is hopeful after seeing what’s happened since the FedEx driver posted his video.
“The power of social media is a crazy thing,” he said.