Commuting thief is foiled by old-fashioned Mountain teamwork

By P. Hedlund, with G. Meyer

That old-fashioned Mountain Communities teamwork kicked in on Tuesday, Oct. 2 when an alert school district employee noticed El Tejon Unified School District’s stolen van in Lebec. Not only did it take a team to catch the thief, but they also retrieved the van and thousands of dollars of stolen property.

According to sheriff’s reports and school board trustee John Fleming’s account, ETUSD employee Jose Molina saw the school’s van (missing since September 12) at Clinica Sierra Vista on Lebec Road on Tuesday morning. He called ETUSD employee Kevin Royle, who arrived and observed the van at the 4-way stop in Lebec. Royle contacted Lucy White at the El Tejon office via radio. She called law enforcement.

Royle and Molina observed the van going into Flying J for gas. At just about 7:15 a.m. a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy and California Highway Patrol officers arrived. They arrested Lancaster resident Richard Adrian Howell, 33 as he was fueling ETUSD’s stolen van.

The vehicle was stuffed full as a Christmas stocking with 12 large flat screen TVs and three video projectors just taken from the Holiday Inn Express. Thousands of dollars in tools and equipment stolen from the school district were also inside, KCSO Sergeant Mark Brown said.

The Lancaster man is being held on $172,500 bail, charged with possessing a stolen vehicle, receiving stolen property, second degree burglary and possession of controlled substance paraphernalia.

The day before, Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec reported items taken from a sea train, including a Polaris quad motorcycle marked ‘ETUSD,’ metal gas cans, a power mower, line trimmers and a generator. According to Fleming, deputies gave a green light and school employees picked up many of those items from a house where Howell was staying in Lebec.

This is part of the October 05, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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