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A cherished memory is a beautiful thing.
"I took a road trip when I was in college, senior year," says Mike Lullo, recalling one of his cherished memories while standing outside his downtown Batavia insurance business.
"I broke down in Ottawa, Canada though," he says. "Once it broke down, I put it away. I always meant to repair it, but just never got around to it."
"It" is a stolen memory, one that used to sit in pieces in the basement of Lullo's rental property.
"Come to find out," he says, "a tenant sold it out of the basement - as parts. Junk."
But it wasn't junk. Lullo's prized possession from his college years was a 1969 BSA Rocket III motorcycle - a valuable British-made vehicle that becomes rarer each year. The BSA Rocket III was one of several bikes that featured important innovations for the motorcycle industry; among them was its powerful three-cylinder engine, which was part of a mass shift towards three-cylinder production worldwide.
Today, Lullo estimates that a fully-restored BSA Rocket III is worth between $14,000 and $18,000.
But in 1998? "(The tenant) sold it for $150 dollars," says Lullo.
He never saw or heard about the motorcycle again, until November 2011, when he and an insurance customer began talking nonchalantly about motorcycles.
As fate would have it, the customer had recently sold a 1969 BSA Rocket III.
"I said, 'Really? You don't run into those very often,'" recalls Lullo. "I said, 'Where'd you get it?' He said: '...that was your bike, wasn't it?''
Lullo was sure it was, but by then the motorcycle had already been sold to a vendor in Syracuse for $200. The vendor, meanwhile, had turned around and dealt the bike to a collector "across the pond" in England, for a cool profit of $3,550.
Having some trouble getting information from the vendor in Syracuse, Lullo turned to the Batavia Police Department. Detective Pat Corona picked up the case.
"He just didn't want to let go," the detective tells YNN. "The report came in about ten years ago for the initial larceny, but the report was kind of a dead end. Mike came forward this year with some new information - tracked an eBay transaction - and we actually had excellent cooperation from the authorities in England."
The English collector was in disbelief when Mike Lullo first contacted him personally.
"He didn't really want to give it up, because he had a lot of money into it," explains Lullo. "He showed me receipts for approximately $7,800 of improvements and restoration."
There was worry that Lullo would not be able to prove ownership - except that, when the bike was first stolen 14 years ago, the thief had screwed up.
"I didn't have the frame and serial number, because the ownership papers were with the motorcycle when it was stolen," Lullo says. However, because the bike was in the middle of being repaired when it was swiped, the thief missed one piece: an engine cover.
"I still have the original, and it tied my claim of ownership to that motorcycle on eBay, simply because it was custom-painted, and the paint matched exactly," he says.
The law is the law - and no matter the condition, the motorcycle was rightfully Lullo's. The Rocket III was crated and shipped back to the United States, and after months stuck in Customs Enforcement in New Jersey, Lullo made the trip to retrieve his stolen motorcycle on Thursday.
"She looks good!" was the first thing he said upon prying open the wooden crate. Some quick inspection revealed a brand-new paint job and a number of structural and mechanical improvements.
Lullo has made arrangements to reimburse the English collector for at least part of his work on the motorcycle. "He put a lot of time, effort and love into making it right," Lullo says. "I certainly appreciate that. He did an outstanding job."
Lullo's experience is proof that cherished memories never really leave you.
But that was evident long before the bike came back to him.
"I've had an ignition key hanging on the bulletin board in my office for 35 years," since the bike first broke down, Lullo said. "I always told my wife, 'I'm going to ride that bike again.'"
On Friday, Lullo grabbed the key, and slid it into the ignition - just like it never left.