After cutting branches and a few juniper trees out of the way, it took law enforcement officers and the operators of two tow trucks most of the afternoon to pull a stolen county road department pickup out of the ditch Wednesday.
>Undersheriff Jim Hensley and Deputy Jim Chapman peer down at the county road department pickup which had been stolen some time ago. The truck, after apparently being used to transport various stolen items, had been driven as far as it would go down a dry streambed in a remote part of the National Grasslands about five miles east of the Madras Highway.
Actually the pickup, which was one of the items taken from the road department yard Dec. 15, was jammed between a couple of trees in the bottom of a dry gully. It had been driven there by one of those accused of committing the burglary. Without being shown where it was, the truck probably would never have been found.
One man was arrested last week and police were looking for a second suspect in connection with three burglaries involving more than $59,000 worth of stolen county equipment. The second wanted man was arrested by police in Powers, Ore. Monday and returned to Crook County.
Crook County Undersheriff Jim Hensley explained that the first was at a work site at the county landfill, on Nov. 18.
A couple nights later, on Nov. 21, one of the county road department shops was burglarized. The third burglary took place on Dec. 15, once again at the county landfill. This time a shop near the office was broken into and an estimated $22,500 in welders, hand and power tools, coveralls and other personal items were taken.
In each break-in, a variety of tools, welding equipment, generators were taken. The culprits stole a 1994 Ford pickup which they apparently used to transport some of the stolen property from the county road department. The thieves also apparently took a 1979 Dodge flatbed truck from the landfill to haul away the stolen items.
The flatbed truck was found by a sheriff's deputy the next day about 30 miles south of town, a few miles beyond Bowman Dam. The welder and a hoist that had been attached to the truck had been stripped off and were missing.
Information developed in the investigation resulted in a search being made of a local storage unit and at a residence. 35-year-old Scott Patrick Gonser was arrested at his home at 365 NE Loper Ave. and charged with several counts of Burglary, Aggravated theft, theft, possessions of stolen property and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, Gonser was lodged in the county jail on $70,000 bail.
Hensley said information came in that the second man, identified as Mark Edwards Stevens, 34, might be in Powers. Police there were notified and a few days later made the arrest. Brought back to Crook County, Stevens offered to take deputies to where the stolen items had been hid.
"He led us to locations where a lot of stuff was hidden," Hensley said. "We spent yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon and this morning recovering tools, welding equipment and air compressors. He even showed us where the missing pickup had been dumped."
Most of the missing items were found in rural areas, hidden under brush. "We found the hoist taken on BLM land, covered with brush. The acetylene tanks were out, farther in the pucker brush also cover up," Hensley added. "He just dumped stuff everywhere ... out of sight."
By noon Wednesday, almost all the stolen items had been recovered. The pickup still had to be brought in, and an air compressor was still unaccounted for.
"Someone found it," Hensley believes. "It has the Crook County Road Department logo on it. If someone finds stolen property and keeps it, they can be charged with a crime. If anyone has it and wants to return it, call me here - 447-6398 and we'll come pick it up."
Apparently, the thieves, after using the pickup to carry off the stolen goods, decided to dump it where it would not likely be found. They chose a dry streambed, a little more than five miles east of the Madras Highway, on the other side of Gray Butte. Breaking through a locked USFS gate, the pickup was driven into the roadless area of the National Grasslands. Turning off an old dirt road at the top of a small ridge, the vehicle was driven through the trees, down the ever-narrowing gully. It was questionable, in places, how the truck was able to continue - until, with one side tight against a Juniper tree and the other slammed into the rock wall of the trench, it could go no farther.
Without a guide to show the way, it is questionable if the white pickup would ever be seen, even from the air. In that regard, the thieves had done what they set out to do.
While Stevens was showing the officers where compressors and the pickup had been hidden, Judge Daniel Ahern was releasing Gonser from jail on a conditional release. And while the two tow trucks were working to pull the pickup out of the "pucker brush" Stevens was being released from custody on a third-party release.