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Deputies give lessons, bikes

Sheriff’s program teaches youth bike safety, builds bonds with community

Posted: June 10, 2009 9:54 p.m.
Updated: June 11, 2009 4:55 a.m.

After completing the five-week Bicycle Education and Registration program, 7-year-old Angel Cruz graduates Wednesday afternoon at Val Verde Park. Kids who completed the program received a helmet, a T-shirt, a certificate and a new bike to take home.

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Seven kids on the verge of their teens huddled around a list of bicycle safety rules Wednesday night, just minutes before they were set to graduate from a Sheriff's Department program on bicycle safety.

And when they passed a final round of questioning by veteran bicycle deputy Ken Yanecko, they were official BEAR graduates and got all the perks that come with it:

"We give them the helmets, we give them the shirts, we give them the bikes. But that's not the biggest gift," Yanecko said. "The biggest gift is, now, if you see me (as a sheriff's deputy) walking down the street, you know I'm not a bad guy."

Yanecko founded the Bicycle Education and Registration program in 2008 with classes in Compton and West Hollywood. Val Verde's is the first in Northern Los Angeles County.

Deputies give the kids bicycles that have been in storage for more than nine months - one of up to 10,000 bikes stored in a Whittier warehouse as evidence or merely unclaimed property.

After a cursory safety examination by inmate workers at Pitchess Detention Center, the bikes go off to the kids.

Typically, the bikes don't look so great to begin with, "so then we can take them to the kids and they can make a diamond out of it."

Once fixed up, the bikes could be worth as much as $600 or more.

Deputy Brian Rooney has been stationed at the community center at Val Verde Park for almost a year. He took on the program because he noticed a lot of kids riding bikes in the area and thought it would be a good chance to connect with them.

He got the kids signed up, handed out the bikes and took them on rides. He likened what followed to a famed scene in the movie "Rocky II": More than a dozen other kids came out with them and unofficially joined the class.

"We had 19 kids behind us," he said. "It was pretty cool."

Before they got their bikes, the kids went to a two-hour class every week for five weeks. They polished up the bikes, fixed the chains, replaced the wheels and seats.

When it ended on Wednesday night, graduate Andrew Ramos, 12, got his first bike.

"It was interesting how you do hand signals and stuff, and how you fix the chains and stuff," Ramos said of the class.

His mother, Maria Ramos, took pictures of the presentation on her cell phone.

Maria Ramos said she has raised five sons. She said she's glad Rooney is there for Andrew.

"(Deputy) Rooney is a good role model for him," she said. "He looks up to him."

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