SALT LAKE CITY — Nobody’s wearing a mask or sporting a cape on the University of Utah men’s basketball team. But make no mistake about it, from the head coach to the team’s student managers, the Utes are not afraid to take matters into their own hands when it comes to fighting crime.
“We’re a team full of vigilantes,” said Ute team manager Hans Steinbrenner with a grin.
On Tuesday night Hans Steinbrenner and co-manager Austin DeSilva apprehended a man accused of stealing thousands of dollars in team apparel, computer equipment and merchandise from the University of Utah’s athletic offices and other campus buildings.
The arrest came less than a week after Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak stopped a suspected bike thief and held him until police arrived.
After his team's practice Friday afternoon, Krystkowiak discussed the two incidents, which have friends and associates joking with those on the team about their crime-fighting skills.
“It was fun,” Krystkowiak said. “It was really fun. I’ve had bikes stolen, houses broken into. I’ve had my car stolen. It’s not a good feeling, (especially) when somebody is that close to home.”
About three weeks ago, Krystkowiak received an email informing employees that the school’s marketing office had been burglarized and that a number of computers had been stolen.
“We put an email out within our staff to keep things locked up,” said Krystkowiak of the email that detailed a Wednesday night break-in. “We had recruits in that next Saturday morning, and we came in to find we’d lost computers, a video projector, so our place got hit anyway. We knew something was up because we’d locked our offices. Somebody had to have a set of keys.”
Shortly after their offices were burglarized, Krystkowiak learned that the school’s academic center had items stolen, and then a few days after that, the baseball offices were victimized.
“Word was just kind of out that everyone was getting stung,” Krystkowiak said.
It was at that point that he asked his players to keep their eyes open for anyone unusual or suspicious. That’s when Dakarai Tucker and former player Jared Dubois said they saw a guy wandering around the Huntsman Center one night about 11 p.m. when they were shooting.
“He had gloves on and he told them that he used to play for the Utes,” said Krystkowiak. “I said, ‘If you see him again, try to get description or take a picture.’”
The next day, the pair saw the suspect and one of them asked him for directions, while the other took a picture with his phone.
Then last Saturday night, Utah volleyball coaches were in their offices after a game when they heard someone trying to get into the swim coach’s office.
“They asked what he was doing, and he said, ‘I found these keys outside, and I was trying to give them back to a coach,'” he said. “So it was a little suspicious.”
The volleyball coaches looked at the picture and said it was the same man.
“That kind of brought it all together,” said Krystkowiak. His wife worked some computer magic on the photo to make it more clear and then Krystkowiak sent out an email with the image in it and offered a $1,000 reward for help in arresting the thief.
He said it was an unsettling time for everyone on campus.
“Everyone was walking around on pins and needles,” said Krystkowiak. “It’s hard to have your stuff stolen once, but then to know that somebody’s got that kind of access where they’re coming back (day after day). You have to think about the timing. Saturday night he gets caught at the swim coach’s door, gets his keys taken way, and yet he’s back here Monday afternoon. It takes a lot of gumption to pull that off. Who knows what would have happened if he’d kept going.”
Thanks to Steinbrenner and DeSilva, he didn’t.
One of the U.’s track coaches was looking at the picture on his phone when he thought he spotted the man. He told Steinbrenner, who tried to follow him, but lost him near the LDS Institute buildings across the street from the Huntsman Center.
When the team met for dinner at the football complex, Steinbrenner took a little heat.
“Everyone was giving Hans a bad time for not getting the criminal,” Krystkowiak said with a smile. So when a coach showed up and said he saw someone running near the arena with two backpacks, Steinbrenner and DeSilva took off.
“We decided to go on a little chase before my class,” Steinbrenner said. “We saw him ... walking toward the TRAX.”
They followed him, with DeSilva trailing by 10 feet and Steinbrenner following 10 feet behind him on his cellphone with university police.
Both young men said they weren’t scared, but they were careful and focused. The man noticed he was being followed and walked quickly into the HPER Building, adjacent to the Huntsman Center, and made his way into an auxiliary locker room in the corner of the building.
They texted Krystkowiak and told him they had him cornered.
“(The suspect) was talking to Austin asking him why we were holding him there,” said Steinbrenner. “We were bigger than him, and we still feel we’re kind of athletic.”
DeSilva said his adrenaline was pumping, but he wasn’t really scared. The man told him former Jazz forward Paul Millsap had given him the new shoes he was wearing and that he’d just been to a store where he picked up the two jackets with the tags still on them.
“We told him, ‘That’s U. of U. athletic gear,'” DeSilva said. “I know it when I see it. He tried to exit the room, and we both were blocking the door.”
DeSilva said he’d never done anything like he did Tuesday night, but it felt good to help apprehend someone causing so much trouble for coaches and staff.
“I didn’t even know about the reward,” he said smiling. “I was just trying to help.”
University of Utah police are still investigating the case and said the suspect had set up a hotel room in Salt Lake City where he was selling the merchandise he was taking from the coaches’ offices.
“We’re going to be pretty vigilant in trying to protects what’s ours,” said Krystkowiak.
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