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The first time Norma Johnson met Toledo police Sgt. Pete Lavey, he was sitting in his police car at Ottawa Park reading the newspaper.
“The first thing she said to me was that I was going to have to arrest her because she’s addicted to this park,” the sergeant, a 29-year veteran of the department, said.
Ms. Johnson, 74, was riding her dark red bicycle around the park, as she does two or three times a day, during that first encounter.
“I told him, ‘Officer, I’m staying out of trouble,’ ” Ms. Johnson said.
The two were destined to meet — how else would Sergeant Lavey have been able to recognize the battered bicycle he pulled out of Ottawa Creek as Ms. Johnson’s?
“Everything came together,” he said. “All the stars lined up, like they say.”
RIDE ALONG BLOG: Another happy ending for Norma Johnson and her bicycle
About a week ago, Ms. Johnson’s bicycle, which she bought in 2008 after selling her 1994 Buick Regal to her granddaughter, was stolen from outside the apartment building where she lives, she said.
Two friends bought her a new bike — this one was pink.
“It was a beautiful bike, but I didn’t like the way I was able to handle it,” Ms. Johnson said.
Days after their first meeting, Sergeant Lavey saw Ms. Johnson on the new pink bicycle.
“I see you got a new bike,” the sergeant said.
“The red bike was stolen,” she told him.
She didn’t like the lack of hand brakes on the pink bike and the seat wasn’t quite right — she’d nearly fallen off at least once, the sergeant recalled her saying.
Tuesday, again at Ottawa Park, Ms. Johnson was back, this time on another new bicycle. This one with a seat identical to the first.
Just a couple hours after the two saw each other Tuesday, the sergeant was dispatched to the park to check on a bicycle in a creek.
“I ... thought. ‘It’s gotta be Norma’s bike,’ ” Sergeant Lavey said.
The water was too deep to walk the bicycle out, so the sergeant found a device used for water rescues and a crowbar-type instrument in his patrol car, attached the two, and fished the dark red Schwinn out of the creek.
Good old-fashioned police work led the sergeant to Ms. Johnson’s apartment complex in West Toledo — he planned on asking around: “You know Norma? The lady who rides the bike?”
Ms. Johnson was, of course, riding her bicycle around the parking lot when the sergeant arrived.
“Hey Norma,” he said, “can you take a look at this?”
Inside the trunk was Ms. Johnson’s dark red bicycle. It was a little beaten, but there it was.
“I said, ‘I think I’m going to pass out,” Ms. Johnson said.
On Wednesday, Ms. Johnson went looking for the sergeant. She found him at Ottawa Park and handed him a thank-you card.
On the envelope she wrote: No. 1 police officer in the state of Ohio.
“I was happy to do it,” the sergeant said. “[The bike] is back in good hands.”
Ms. Johnson said the bike is too damaged to ride and too costly to repair. The $9 basket she affixed to the back is gone — it was useful for trips to Food Town.
“I am still in total shock that they were able to find it,” Ms. Johnson said of the bicycle, which was in her living room Wednesday afternoon. “I never thought they would find it.”