Laura and David Daley of Oakdale suffered an ugly shock Friday, Aug. 5 when they received a phone call at 6:15 in the morning from the people who lease cattle on the Daley’s 430 acres near Highway 108 — somehow their six horses had escaped the pasture and were running loose.
Even worse, one was dead.
A Storer bus traveling westbound, west of Tulloch Road, carrying 38 passengers from Black Oak Casino collided with one of the Daley’s horses around 11:30 p.m., killing it instantly. Five passengers reported a complaint of pain but there were no serious injuries on board the bus.
From that moment forward, the events that lead up to the death of their beloved horse, Calvin, and the subsequent consequences of a single criminal act, have not only complicated their lives but have made grieving a secondary consideration as they navigate the complicated and costly after effects.
An Act Of Thievery
Highway 108 heading toward Sonora is a long, meandering road that cuts into the rolling foothills. It’s a classic landscape covered with grassy plains well suited for grazing and there’s plenty of it. In the summer, the pungent smells of baking dirt, tarweed, and manure float on the wind and during the early part of the year, the verdant hills are dotted with the stubborn and hardy brand of wildflowers that flourish during the Central Valley’s brief spring season. But spring, summer, winter, fall, all seasons have one element in common — at night the dark is absolute.
Which, according to Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department, is perfect cover for the twitchy fingers of a criminal looking to steal.
The Daley’s property bisects the highway with flanking parcels on either side. Two gates kept their livestock fenced in but on Thursday, Aug. 4 around 10:30 p.m. thieves stole one gate, then returned the following night and stole the other, resulting in the death of a therapy horse used to help treat autistic children.
In total, 48 feet of panel with bright orange corners was stolen.
David Daley believes more than one person was in on the job.
“There were 20 Pall Mall cigarette butts in the driveway,” David Daley said. “Police took one for evidence.”
But who steals a gate? And why?
Sgt. Jeff Wilson of the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department had a grim answer.
“Meth addicts are stealing stuff to take to valley metal recyclers. They go out in the middle of the night and load up, especially on these ranches and farms where there’s plenty of metal to be found. One rancher lost $10,000 worth of irrigation sprinklers because they went and tore them out for the copper. There aren’t good enough regulations out there.”
Wilson said the problem is multi-tiered, placing partial blame on the recyclers for not using common sense.
“If a guy shows up with no teeth, hasn’t bathed in weeks and he has 200 feet of guardrail, you can pretty much guess that it’s been stolen,” Wilson said. “But there’s not much we can do. Like most sheriff’s departments, we’re stretched pretty thin.”
And the thieves are well aware of this fact and are taking advantage.
The following night, while the Daleys were grieving the loss of their horse, which they had to retrieve from the side of the road and bury, the thieves returned and took the other gate.
“I’ve always been a forgiving person,” Laura Daley said, wiping tears from her eyes, barely able to manage a sentence without fresh tears. “But when I came around that corner I started violently shaking. I’ve never felt so much hatred for that person. They murdered my horse.”
David Daley, who is dealing with the practical matters such as replacing the stolen gates and the insurance claims from 38 passengers on the Storer bus, is spitting mad.
“I want to forgive them personally,” he said darkly of the criminals, hinting that his brand of forgiveness would likely entail the gift of a five-knuckle sandwich and a much-deserved smackdown.
And who could blame him.
The financial burden alone — creeping toward $20,000 at this point — is enough to make a person see red but the brazen second theft the following night was simply too much.
Grieving The Loss
“He was the best of the batch,” Laura Daley said of the 16-hand Quarter horse, Calvin. “He was the most gentle, docile horse. He would never lead, always follow, which is why he was the one hit. The other horses had already crossed the road.”
Laura Daley, a certified instructor with PATH Intl. (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International), said Calvin helped autistic children.
“He helped one little girl learn to walk and talk. Doctors said she’d never walk and she took her first steps with Calvin. I can’t buy another horse like Calvin, he was a very unique horse. It’s hard to find a 16-hands horse that’s comfortable with kids.”
To the Daleys and to that little girl’s family, Calvin was priceless.
But to someone else — such as the criminals who let the horses loose with their thievery — the horse was the collateral damage of a burglary that ultimately, would yield very little payout.
“They don’t get much for the metal, maybe a couple hundred bucks at the most,” Sgt. Wilson said. “But they’re out there stealing whatever metal they can find.”
As tragic as it is, the Daleys are thankful a bus took the brunt of the damage caused by Calvin’s body, rather than a family traveling the lonely road at night.
“If it’d been a car, there would’ve been fatalities,” Laura Daley said. “It could’ve been so bad.”
Insurance claims, replacing the fencing and moving forward are the Daleys’ most pressing concerns. But it’s not easy, sometimes the grief and the rage takes over.
“The insurance doesn’t cover perimeter fencing so we have to cover that,” David Daley said. “We’re not going to recoup anything. Right now we’re looking at $20,000 at least for damages and medical claims. Between the horse and the panels, there’s about a $7,000 loss.
The Daleys plan to replace the stolen gate with permanent fencing to help deter further theft but they know no one is safe as long as whoever did this remains at large.
Sgt. Wilson admitted, there aren’t any suspects at this time but the case is still open and they’re hoping for leads to surface.
The Daleys are hoping to start a reward fund for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.
An account has been opened at Bank of the West for anyone interested in donating to this cause.
The theft is indicative of the swath of rural crime sweeping the Central Valley as strained city and county finances spread law enforcement resources thin.
Recently, the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department arrested three suspects, Kenneth Morgan, 48 and Guillermo Aquino, 43, both of Oakdale and Cynthia Crook, 47, of Waterford for stealing the air conditioner unit from the roof of a vacant restaurant in Jamestown. They were found with methamphetamine, pry bars, hand tools and mounds of jewelry in their possession.
Deputies also found 40 receipts in their vehicle’s glove compartment totaling several thousand dollars from multiple metal recycling companies in the valley.
The problem is bigger than one stolen gate, one dead horse.
“These people are stealing whatever they can get their hands on,” Sgt. Wilson said.
The Tuolumne and Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Departments urge people to report any suspicious activity.
If anyone has information regarding the theft involved with the Daley case, please call Sgt. Jeff Wilson with the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department at 533-5815.