Crime

Fresno sheriff volunteers’ equipment stolen in Turlock on way to Camp Fire

A volunteer with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Mountaineering Team stands beside a shattered SUV window after it was taped up. Equipment was stolen from the vehicle while volunteers were eating dinner in a Turlock restaurant Nov. 23, 2018.
A volunteer with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Mountaineering Team stands beside a shattered SUV window after it was taped up. Equipment was stolen from the vehicle while volunteers were eating dinner in a Turlock restaurant Nov. 23, 2018. Fresno County Sheriff's Office

Fresno County Sheriff’s Office volunteers were on their way to Paradise when equipment was stolen that they planned to use to find remains of people killed in the Camp Fire.

That burglary last week meant the Search and Rescue Mountaineering Team had to return home before ever reaching the disaster area.

The sheriff’s office asked for donations Wednesday to replace the stolen gear, worth approximately $7,000, which was purchased by the volunteers. On Thursday, $7,000 was donated by David McDonald, a philanthropist and former chief executive officer of Pelco.

Additional donations can be made to the nonprofit search and rescue team online at fresnosar.org.

Tony Botti, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said the burglary occurred around 6 p.m. Friday while three of the volunteers were eating dinner at a restaurant in Turlock at 2900 Countryside Drive.

They were inside the restaurant for around 30 minutes. When they returned to their SUV, they found two of the windows shattered and most of their rescue equipment stolen. They reported the burglary to the Turlock Police Department.

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Equipment was stolen out of this SUV from volunteers with Fresno County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Mountaineering Team. A burglar shattered the vehicle’s windows while it was parked outside a Turlock restaurant on Nov. 23, 2018. Fresno County Sheriff's Office

“Unfortunately, no known surveillance cameras in the area captured the theft and no suspects have been identified,” Botti said. “The investigation is ongoing.”

Botti said the volunteers were forced to return to Fresno because they couldn’t have performed their duties without their gear. The volunteers are certified through the sheriff’s office but are not county employees, so they pay for their own rescue clothes and supplies.

“This theft was a huge financial loss to these three folks,” Botti said. “Not only are they now not equipped to help at the Camp Fire, they do not have the necessary gear to help our local community should an emergency arise.”

The volunteers said not being able to make it to Paradise to help with Camp Fire recovery efforts “really bothered us over the weekend, especially since we had the time to assist.”

“Even though this incident was not our fault,” the team wrote in a statement, “we felt like we let our team down by not being there to serve as another set of eyes, hands and feet to go through the devastated community.”

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge
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