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Car theft thwarted by plant crew

Bronco owner Louis Hooks, center, talks with investigators as they look through belongings the suspect tried to load from a stolen pickup into Hooks’ vehicle, along I-84.

Bronco owner Louis Hooks, center, talks with investigators as they look through belongings the suspect tried to load from a stolen pickup into Hooks’ vehicle, along I-84. Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea.

“Stop an auto theft” was not on the 8 a.m. staff meeting agenda Friday for the guys at the city wastewater treatment plant.

But that is exactly what Louis Hooks and his co-workers did when they noticed that Hooks’ Ford Bronco was parked along the freeway, 300 yards west of exit 63, instead of where he had left it, in the parking lot of the treatment plant, 100 yards to the north.

The crew also saw a man taking stuff out of a Chevrolet pickup and putting it into the Bronco.

Yes, into it.

The suspect, a 19-year-old man arrested at the scene at about 8:15 a.m., was busy transferring belongings including blankets, a bicycle, a dozen or so pruning loppers, a microwave, glass pitcher, and bags of groceries.

Officer Emy Delancy and Chief Neal Holste arrested the man on suspicion of auto theft, but at press time they had not verified his identity.

The suspect’s moving all his gear gave the city crew time to run the 100 yards from their office up the freeway slope and stop him. With Hooks were operator Gary Duree, Bobby Green and Kelby Johnson. All are with CH2M-Hill, which manages the plant under contract with the city.

Another object the suspect had was a shotgun, which the crew said he never pointed in anyone’s direction.

“I didn’t give him the chance to. He didn’t point it at anybody,” Hooks said.

The suspect nearly got away.

“We were having our staff meeting, and I saw him walking down the hill, and didn’t think much of it because people cut across here all the time going down the Port,” Duree said, “and next thing we’re sitting here in the meeting, joking ‘That looks like your rig up on the freeway, Louie.’ We couldn’t tell for sure, and after the staff meeting was over, it was ‘Hey, your rig’s gone,’ and that’s when we came up.

“He was trying to offload all his stuff and that’s when he got confronted,” Duree said.

“They had called the police and told him, ‘You need to stay,’” Duree said. “At that point he was trying to leave. He was trying to get out of here.”

Green said the suspect had the gun in his hands when the crew came up to him, and quickly set the gun down on the guard rail, and then behind the seat of the pickup. (Later, Sheriff’s Detective Rick Princehouse removed shells from the gun. Oregon State Police also responded.)

Undersheriff Brian Rockett said the Chevrolet 1500 pickup was also stolen, out of Grant County.

The other detail critical to the CH2M-Hill crew’s apprehension of the suspect was where the suspect parked the Bronco. It was visible from the office, but parked another 20 feet in either direction and the trees would have blocked it from view.

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Louis Hooks and the investigating officers found moments of humor in Friday’s attempted car theft.

Asked if the belongings along the freeway were his or the suspect’s, Hooks said, “I don’t know if it’s his stuff, but it’s not mine.”

Hooks said the suspect told him, “My girlfriend told me to pick it up (the vehicle).”

Hooks said he told him, “You’re not picking up my vehicle.”

Pointing to the numerous orchard loppers in the pickup, Detective Princehouse said, “Severance package from his last employee.”

Among the objects left behind by the suspect was a copy of the Bible.

“I don’t think he read the whole thing,” said Deputy Gary Stefanini.

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