An investigation into several vehicle break-ins at Point Reyes National Seashore resulted in the arrest of a suspect, and then the case took an unusual twist: the man had a loaded, homemade cannon in the bed of his pickup.
During the week of March 16, 2009, several vehicle break-ins and thefts (often referred to as "car clouts") were reported to authorities at the California park. The incidents occurred at North Beach, near the Point Reyes Lighthouse. The investigation got a break when a credit card stolen from one of the victims was used at several locations in the area. According to information from the park,
Investigating ranger Glenn Yanagi was able to obtain surveillance video from two of the stores, which provided a good description of the thief and his vehicle.
On April 11th, ranger Bruce Dombrowski spotted the suspect vehicle at the same area where the previous thefts occurred. Rangers parked a car in the lot and took up a surveillance location next to the vehicle.
The suspect, a 43-year-old Petaluma man, broke the window of the bait car and stole a computer and wallet as Riegelmayer watched, He was arrested by other rangers as he left the area. In his wallet, he had a stolen credit card from one of the earlier victims.
Later that same day, rangers served a search warrant on the man’s residence and found stolen property from three earlier incidents, including personal identification, credit cards, and electronic gear.
The man was charged with six felony violations and is awaiting trial, but this case had a bizarre twist.
One of the charges filed was for possessing a homemade cannon, which the man had in the bed of his pickup. It was loaded when it was found. The makeshift cannon was constructed of a 12-inch-long pipe, a battery, a model-rocket ignition device and a lead ball. The cannon was attached to a piece of 6" by 6" wood and was propped up at the end of the barrel.
The NPS has no evidence he was firing the gun at property or sensitive wildlife. However, John Dell'Osso, Chief of Interpretation and Resource Education, notes,
"We are very concerned even if the individual wasn't shooting directly at wildlife that the sound this weapon makes would be enough to alter the behavior of the federally-threatened western snowy plover, a species of bird that is nesting this time of year on that beach."
The cannon has sparked some local media interest, but more important was the excellent work by the park staff that resulted in an arrest in the car clouting case. The man has been positively tied to four vehicle break-ins in the park, and is a suspect in many others.