Police, Community, and Social Media Get a Stolen Car Back to Its Owner; Now, Can the Same Mix Find the Thief Who May Have Attempted Murder?
A mixture of police, community members and social media helped Haley French get her stolen car back. Can the same mixture help her find the thief who may have tried to murder someone?
When Haley French stepped outside her house on January 4, she almost couldn’t believe what had happened. However, eventually she accepted that sometime overnight, a thief had taken her car.“I called the police,” she explained. The dispatchers were helpful, she said. Officer Dustin Nantz of the Eureka Police Department responded and was very kind, according to Haley. “They all were great and so compassionate but also so routine that I realized it’s way more common than I was aware of.”
Haley knew she had secured her car when she left it the night before. “The doors were definitely locked so the thieves likely broke in through a door (no broken glass),” she told us when she wrote asking us to run a story on her stolen vehicle. [Later, her mechanic told her that a bend in her car door indicated they had used something like an inflatable air wedge.]
“There was a spare non-transponder key inside the vehicle, which the thieves may have found or they may have hot-wired the vehicle.” She had also left her an electronic tablet in the vehicle.
Later, French found out that the vehicle may have been used to try and run someone down.
A little after 10 a.m., according to Eureka Police spokesperson Brittany Powell, a man and his wife reported that the man had been walking in an alley to join his wife in their parked truck when a car came from behind, nearly struck him, and then did strike the vehicle that his wife was in. The two felt that this had been a deliberate attempt to run him down.
The vehicle described was similar to that of French’s stolen vehicle, a silver hatchback. The couple was “pretty sure the suspect [vehicle] would have white paint transfer from the collision,” Powell explained.
At 3:13 p.m., we published a story about French’s missing car.
Powell said that at 5:52 p.m., Eureka Police received a call stating that the caller had discovered the stolen RAV4 near the 200 block of Huntoon Street. According to Powell, the caller had seen the RAV4 park in the alley. Afterwards, three males and a female, in their teens to early twenties, left on foot.
Powell explained, “Officers responded said the vehicle had damage consistent with the hit and run earlier that day.”Heather French was called to the scene to recover her vehicle. There, she says, she met up with the woman who called. “Her name was Kim,” French said. A neighbor was also there. “They were both outside with the two police officers.”
The women told her that they had read about her stolen vehicle on Redheaded Blackbelt. Earlier that day, Kim had seen the RAV4 parked in the same spot but then it had left. When the post appeared on the Redheaded Blackbelt, she had thought it looked like the one that had parked in the alley and then left. So, when the vehicle showed back up, she noticed and watched who left the vehicle.
She and her neighbor checked the license plate and matched it up with the stolen RAV4 so she reported the car to the EPD.
Then French said came the hardest part of her whole experience. “Officer Nantz said very casually they tried to run over a pedestrian in an alley,” she explained. “Right after that my hand was shaking so much.”
The vehicle could run but it needed to be repaired. “It reeked of cigarettes and some other smell that is disgusting,” French said. Inside she found some items that might help identify the culprits.
And she found a gold foil from a Camel cigarette wrapper as well as a small . “I don’t smoke and don’t permit smoking in my car, so I know this was from them,” French said. “There was also a tiny, brown, very pathetic looking marijuana nugget in the cupholder of the front seat.”
French explained that the car will eventually go into the shop for repair but she won’t be totally without wheels. “I have awesome supportive community,” she said. “People offer to loan a car.” And, she has full insurance coverage.
She hopes the community can help track down the suspects who not only stole her car but appear to have tried to run down a man and did strike his vehicle. “It’s surprising what people can do,” she said.
If you have any information, please call the Eureka Police Department at (707) 441-4044.