A group of cyclists is concerned about safety on the Foothills Trail in Orting after the alleged assault of a bicycle shop owner, although officials are calling it an isolated incident.
Brian Backus, owner of Trailside Cyclery, suffered injuries in a confrontation at River Avenue and Bridge Street on Oct. 24, said Orting Police Chief Bill Drake.
Jacki Backus told The News Tribune Thursday her husband’s leg was broken; he was just coming out of surgery Thursday afternoon, and he now has a metal plate and a pin in his leg.
“It’s been emotional for us,” Jacki Backus said, noting that the outpouring of community support has been overwhelming.
Her husband has had to close the shop temporarily due to his injuries.
“He is a one-man band,” she said.
Drake said two suspects, a 17-year-old male and another male believed to be 16, were identified and arrested but are no longer in custody. The case has been forwarded to the Pierce County prosecutor’s office, he said.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Benton said Thursday the case is being reviewed and his office is awaiting more information from Orting police.
Cyclists with the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition and neighboring business owners say a group of kids on bikes regularly hangs out in the park near Backus’ business, where the Foothills Trail runs through the city.
Drake said the department is aware that the group is often seen at a gazebo in the park adjacent to Trailside Cyclery, but authorities don’t know if the two suspects are associated with the group.
Jacki Backus said her husband was assaulted after kids were doing tricks on their BMX bikes in front of the shop, damaging a wheel on one of the shop’s high-end bicycles that was outside. She said Brian Backus followed the kids away from the shop to confront them about the damage; one of them threw his BMX bike at Backus, who tried to confiscate it and turned to walk away.
Jacki Backus said the kids jumped her husband as he turned his back, repeatedly kicking him while he was on the ground.
“Luckily there were some people that were observing it who came over and (the suspects) took off,” she said.
Drake said violence is unusual in the Puyallup Valley city of about 6,700 people.
He said the department is working to investigate and inform the public by partnering with local schools to raise awareness about safety and sending the message that police won’t tolerate violence.
“We’ll work our way through this,” he said.
Orting Mayor Cheryl Temple said the city’s priority is to inform residents on facts and avoid misinformation. She said the community has been flooded with stories, real and false, and “we want to try to get the record straight.”
Buzz Grant, a Puyallup resident and president of the Rails-to-Trails coalition, said the incident has shaken bicyclists.
He said he doesn’t care if Pierce County Sheriff’s Department or Orting police deal with “troublemakers” on the trail, as long as it’s addressed immediately.
“We need these type of people to be put in their place and leave people alone,” he said.
Grant, a coalition member since 1998 and president for nearly four years, said there have been some minor problems on the trail over the years, but nothing significant.
Ernie Bay, a founding member of the coalition from Puyallup, echoed Grant, saying the trails both in Orting and elsewhere are very safe.
“In all the years the trail has been opened I can’t think of any instance of violence,” he said.
Still, even though it appears the recent incident is unrelated to the trail, Bay said the group is working to inform riders how to be safe.
Bay said a volunteer group of Rails-to-Trails members, called the Courtesy Patrol, rides in yellow vests and serves as a presence on the trail to help increase safety. The group hopes to work with police following the alleged assault.
Temple advises trailgoers and Orting residents to use common-sense safety practices, such as never walking alone at night. But she encourages people not to let fear from an isolated incident get in the way of daily activities.
“Continue doing what you want to do,” she said. “Don’t let this thing stop you.”
As for Trailside Cyclery, Jacki Backus said for now her husband plans to go back to work, but she doesn’t know when the shop will reopen.
“His feelings go back and forth,” she said. “It’s kind of hard to think about going back right now.”
Kari Plog: 253-597-8682 firstname.lastname@example.org @KariPlog