The Septuagenarian Speaks – published December 14, 2018, Siskiyou Daily News.
I was in the Air Force during the Vietnam time, stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 1968 in Albuquerque my wife and I bought a used Toyota Land Cruiser. Although only one year old, it already had a lot of miles on it. This Japanese “Jeep” was possibly one of the finest motor vehicles ever produced world-wide. We still have it. It has stories to tell.
One such story occurred twenty-some years ago. At that time, it was the vehicle I drove on a daily basis. I typically parked it on the street in front of our house, often unlocked. One week-end, on a Saturday, I was in the family room when my wife came in from shopping. She asked me, surprised, “What are you doing here?”
“I live here.”
“Where’s your jeep?” she asked. “It’s not out in front.”
Not that I didn’t believe her, but I had to see for myself. Sure enough, it was gone. After ruling out all the possible places I might have parked it, I called the police and reported it stolen.
Later that day I got a call from the Highway Patrol, reporting that the jeep had been located, disabled, in the driveway of a prominent rancher off Old Highway 99 near Gazelle. The rancher was angry because he thought someone had abandoned the vehicle on his property and he was going to have to pay for its removal. At my request, the CHP had it towed to the car repair shop. Apparently, the perpetrators hot-wired it, an easy task. It had simply run out of gas. The fuel gauge had never been accurate from the day we first bought it. Good anti-theft protection.
On Sunday, I got a call from the rancher. “You’re not going to believe this,” he said. “Some people came to my front door just now. They had a gasoline can, and asked me what happened to the jeep they left in my driveway. When I told them the CHP had it towed, they took off, but not before my son circled around the car they were driving and copied down the license number, and my wife called the sheriff from the back bedroom.”
They were apprehended soon after. One was a male juvenile and the other two were adults. I recognized the name of the juvenile because he had been in the juvenile court system, with increasingly serious law violations. They had done some damage to the jeep, and we actually received some restitution, a rarity.
Soon after, my wife and I happened to see the rancher at a crab-feed in Grenada. He presented us with a gift. A “Club,” a device that immobilizes your steering wheel.
Several years later, I was presiding over a preliminary hearing in the adult felony criminal court. The name of the defendant seemed familiar to me, but I couldn’t remember why. He was charged with a very serious crime. Before we started the proceeding, his defense attorney said, “Your Honor, can we meet in chambers?” I met with him and the deputy DA in my office and the defense attorney said, “My client says he stole your jeep.”
That triggered my memory. Following protocol, I explained to both sides the facts of the notorious jeep hijacking as best I remembered, giving them the opportunity to disqualify me. They didn’t. I could also have recused myself, but didn’t. I didn’t believe I had a bias. If anything, with the passage of time, I had come to regard the whole incident as humorous. The first dumb thing that triggered the sequence of the dumb things that followed was that I had left the jeep parked on the street unlocked.