Riding along the sidewalk outside her Antioch home, 12-year-old Charlotte Luther wears a smile familiar to anyone who has ever watched a kid enjoy the freedom that comes from riding on two wheels.
The only thing different about Luther's smile, though, is that she requires three wheels to make it happen.
Earlier this year, Luther's family raised $4,000 to buy her a specially equipped, adult-sized tricycle for her to ride. Luther has dealt with many physical and emotional challenges in her short life: she has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, determined to be on the autism spectrum, and even had to battle a brain tumor just last year.
It has all left Charlotte with issues and balance and strength that make riding a traditional, two-wheeled bicycle difficult. So, getting the tricycle was a huge treat for her.
"This is great because now she can be independent," her father, Adam Luther, said. "She can ride with her neighborhood friends and go on bike rides with them."
It was all great, until it was gone.
One morning early in May, the Luther family was alerted to trouble by the barking of their dog. Adam Luther got to the window in time to see his wife's bicycle being wheeled away from their enclosed front patio. Charlotte's tricycle was also gone.
"I was heartbroken," Charlotte said, "because that bike meant so much to me."
Fortunately for the Luther's, Antioch Police Officer Dan Fachner was determined to get the tricycle back to Charlotte. Upon responding to the Luthers' report of a burglary, Fachner understood, not just how much the tricycle meant to Charlotte, but that finding the money to replace it would difficult for the family.
"It kind of tears at your heart, a case like this," Fachner said.
Fachner began his very next shift cruising the streets of Antioch, focused on finding the tricycle. He began asking around at nearby strip malls and a woman told him she had seen a tricycle fitting the description roughly a mile from the Luthers' home.
Fachner drove to the spot, spotted a man on the tricycle, and ordered him to stop. The man was taken into custody, and the tricycle was returned to Charlotte, less than 24 hours after it had been stolen.
"I figured if we didn't find it in a day or so and somebody found out what it was worth, it was probably going to be gone," Fachner said.
"Pretty amazing," said Charlotte's mother, Cate Luther. "He really cared."
Returning the bike was a good deed, but what Fachner didn't know at the time is that it wasn't the only one he had done. Perhaps not even the most important.
Before getting aspects of her bipolar disorder under control, Charlotte had experienced episodes that had required police officers to come to the Luther home. "When she was about 8 or 9," Cate Luther said, "she had several encounters that weren't favorable and so she has this dislike of police officers and sees them in a negative light."
That, however, has now changed Charlotte said. Thanks to Fachner.
"It's pretty special to hear someone say that," Fachner said.
Earlier this week, Charlotte and Cate went to the Antioch Police headquarters to present a box of donuts as a gift to Fachner and say thanks to him in person.
Charlotte even felt comfortable enough to put her arm around him for a picture. "She's now seeing police officers can be good people as well," Cate Luther said.