TAMPA — With his toddler in his arms, Paul Rivera looked on anxiously as the motorcycle was rolled off the back of the flatbed tow truck.
“It took a year to build,” says Rivera, a 27-year-old Iraq War veteran, as he inspected the damaged bike, its custom design job covered over by a coat of cheap black paint. “And a week to look like this.”
Rivera bought the 2005 Honda CBR 600 motorcycle in 2011, just before leaving the Army as a specialist.
He deployed to Iraq for a year beginning in 2008, serving as door gunner on a Black Hawk helicopter, stationed at Camp Taji, around 20 miles northeast of Baghdad. The motorcycle, which he bought from a Black Hawk pilot for $5,000, was his escape.
“I used it to focus my mind,” he says.
On June 18, after taking the bike for a ride, he parked it in the usual spot outside his apartment on Buena Vista Way. A few hours later, it was gone.
On Thursday, Hillsborough County Sheriff Office deputies, who had been searching for the bike ever since it was reported stolen, got a break.
Deputy Christopher Maffei spotted the stolen motorcycle near Falkenburg Road and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Maffei called for backup and followed the motorcycle until he saw the driver back it into the driveway at 9513 Six Mile Creek Rd. A few minutes later, deputies and a K-9 unit moved in on the residence.
Nathan Bowyer, the man who was riding the motorcycle, and Cindy Dormany, who was living at the home, ran out the back and were arrested. Deputies obtained a search warrant and seized methamphetamine, Xanax, Hydrocodone, marijuana, three guns, ammunition and more than $20,000 in cash, deputies said.
Bowyer, 24, was charged with grand theft motor vehicle, trafficking in stolen property, delivery of a controlled substance, petit theft and violation of probation. Dormany, 36, was charged with several drug offenses, as was another resident of the home, Christopher Hahn, 36, who was arrested a short time later.
All three are being held in a Hillsborough County jail with no bond set, according to jail records.
Sheriff’s Cpl. Buddy Rudolph says investigators will now look at other stolen motorcycle cases to see if there is a connection.
Rivera said that shortly after making the arrests, deputies informed him about the recovery.
“I was so grateful,” he said.
But he’s also upset that after coming back from war, to a place he thought was safe, something like this could happen.
“I feel violated,” he says.
Already struggling with post traumatic stress disorder as the result of his service, Rivera said his feelings of insecurity have been exacerbated by the theft.
But as bad as that was, the end result, he says, “is amazing.”
Not only did the deputies find a motorcycle he thought he’d never see again, but a group of service members, veterans and law enforcement officers sweetened the day.
The Nam Knights Westside Chapter, a 25-year-old motorcycle club dedicated to helping those who served either as troops or law enforcement officers, agreed to take care of the restoration work.
“It is our pleasure and honor, especially on the Fourth of July,” says club president Todd Harr, an Army sergeant major who works in the human resources directorate at U.S. Special Operations Command.
Rivera was nearly speechless.
Aside from the crummy paint job, an attempt to cover up the orange, white and red logo of his beloved Respol motorcycle racing team, the bike was missing a seat, a tail light and fairings - plastic parts used to reduce drag.
“I never could have afforded to fix this financially,” he said. “I am so grateful.”
For a few moments, Rivera’s daughter Mila, 2.5, hopped onto the motorcycle. Soon, Stepp Towing, which picked up the bike for free, dropped it off at the home of one of the Nam Knights. Harr estimates it will take about a week to restore.
Rivera, clearly overwhelmed on a sweltering day, thanked the deputies and the Nam Knights.
“I am so glad I had the honor to serve a country like this,” Rivera says. “I wouldn’t change anything. I would do it again.”