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Name draws sheriff's attention

Canyon Country man says his business’ name has been wrongly linked to a Riverside gang

Posted: August 9, 2008 6:25 p.m.
Updated: October 11, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Tommy Young walks into 5150 Customs in Canyon Country on July 30. Young is a member of the 5150 motorcycle club and rides with owner Haik Avagyan and other club members on Sunday mornings.

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If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s actually a simple working guy trying to run a business fixing motorcycles.

The problem is, the business run by Haik Avagyan keeps being mistaken for a gang or with bikers because of the name he’s chosen, he says.

The name of his business is 5150 Custom shop.

He operates out of Canyon Country on the northeast side of Soledad Canyon Road and Sierra Highway as a place that fixes motorcycles and, sometimes, augments them to enable riders to perform stunts.

If you try to find Haik’s business online, you’ll have to sift through scores of other “51-50” outfits, most of them affiliated somehow with motorcycles, to find the local shop — and that’s a big part of the problem.

The actual legal term, under section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code, is defined as: “When any person, as a result of mental disorder, is a danger to others, or to himself or herself.”

In the world of motorcycle daredevil riders and stunt riders, the term is used to reflect a character of daring, adventure and rebellion.

But, if that weren’t enough to cause Haik headaches over mistaken identity, the term “51-50” also figures into the name of a Riverside gang linked to murder and attempted murder charges.

Haik says he and members of his club — who are, by the way, outfitted with vests emblazoned with Haik’s personally designed “51-50” logo — are being targeted, singled out and picked on by local sheriff’s deputies because of the name.

Sheriff’s Capt. Anthony La Berge, who heads the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station agrees — in part.

Deputies are targeting, singling out and picking on motorcyclists at the shop but not because of the name.

Motorcyclists coming and going from the shop are being singled out because motorcyclists who ride ultra-fast maneuverable “crotch-rocket” bikes — of the type fixed and, sometimes, modified at Haik’s shop — are performing dangerous acts on city roads and, most importantly, are ending up dead.

In describing the recent death of a motorcyclist killed instantly when he slammed into the back of a truck, La Berge said: “Was he 51-50? I don’t know and I don’t care.”

Haik said he designed the “51-50” logo on his sticker, cast in an Old English font, because it looks “cool.”

Why are sheriff’s deputies stopping his customers?

“I know it’s because of the stickers,” Haik said. “They think I’m teaching these kids how do these stunts.”
Haik says he’s only trying to make a living and a run a business that makes money.

“I work on all sorts of stunt gear,” he said during a sit-down interview in his shop, as young men drifted in and out of his garage littered with numerous bikes.

“This is my main income,” Haik said, referring to work simply repairing motorcycles.

Although he would like to break into motorcycle stunt work for movies, that’s a dream. His repair business is the reality of it all.

He says being targeted by sheriff’s deputies is hurting his bottom line.

“My main concern is that I’ve noticed a loss in business,” he says, naming or describing customers who no longer endorse his shop because they’re being singled out by local law enforcement.

La Berge says he and his deputies are targeting motorcyclists who ride vehicles that do not meet legal standards.

“We’re not trying to put him out of business,” La Berge told The Signal.

As Santa Clarita Valley’s top local law enforcement figure, sworn in just last year and who proudly unveiled 2008 crime statistics last week indicating an overall reduction in almost all crimes, La Berge does not shy away from his mission to make local streets safer and vigorously enforce motor vehicle requirement laws.

Topping the list of his department’s most disparaging statistics is the number of motorcycle deaths.

“We’ve had six motorcycle fatalities in the past year and a half,” he said. “Four of those six were young adults on crotch-rockets, all speed related.”

One of those deaths involved a young man who died instantly near Golden Valley High School after he slammed into a cement truck.

“Then we lost one kid on Sand Canyon, decapitated,” La Berge said.

Each side in the debate — motorcycle shop owner Haik who wants to use the 51-50 name and Capt. La Berge who wants to stop kids dying on “crotch-rockets” — have statistics they present in their arguments.

Haik points to several examples of times sheriff’s deputies have pulled over one of his customers — almost all of whom proudly display the shop’s “51-50” promotional sticker — for seemingly innocuous reasons such as bald tires, or malfunctioning turn signals.

La Berge points to  a more sobering list of examples of young men who have died horrible deaths on “crotch-rocket” bikes.

“They’re argument is, ‘You’re lumping us all together.’ Well, welcome to our world,” La Berge said, reflecting the public’s perception of law enforcement officers.

What is an outlawed motorcycle gang? A textbook description might include: burly guys, tattoos, motorcycles, pit bulls, identifiable “colors” displayed on back of leather vests, and guys acting as members of an organized group.

Haik’s shop might be described as: motorcycles, tattoos, pit bull (although still a pup and gentle), “colors” displayed on the back of vests, and guys acting as members of an organized group.

Burly?

Most of Haik’s clientele (at least, based on one visit) are clean-cut young men in their late teens or early 20s keenly interested in motorcycles.

If the average person thinks his clients look like an outlawed motorcycle gang — so what? says Haik. It’s his constitutional right to adopt whatever image or personae he wants.

Haik says he has a First Amendment right under the Constitution to exercise his right of free speech to use whatever name he wants for his business.

La Berge says it has nothing to do with the name.

After a year of both an unprecedented flurry of what Haik calls “harassment” charges levelled at local motorcyclists including “51-50” club members and an unprecedented number of young local men killed riding motorcycles, both men met face to face.

Earlier this month, Capt. La Berge drove out to Haik’s shop.

The two talked face to face.

Haik said the message he heard was: “We’re going to close down 51-50.”

According to La Berge, the message he sent was: “We’re going to keep handing out citations until you can prove to us that each and every one of your bikes meets the legal requirements.”

Either way, it’s tough times ahead for “crotch-rocket” riders, 51-50 or not.

But, it’s never as tough as having to knock on some door in Valencia or Canyon County or Newhall and tell some young man’s parents that their son was killed in a collision.

That’s tough, says La Berge.

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