NORTH FORK – A determined couple and a lot of help from social media helped track down a stolen vehicle and put two suspects behind bars last Friday.
When Chad Williams drove over to his shop on Wilcox Drive at about 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning, Apr. 14, he was just planning to get ready for a trip up to Beasore for the Easter weekend with the family.
However, upon arriving he saw that his prized 1972 Chevy Blazer was not there. After making sure that no friend or family member was using the vehicle, he realized that it had been stolen.
“My husband got a text saying that someone just saw it driving down Old Town Road,” says Lucretia. She was still in her pajamas and flip flops, but after calling 911, she and Chad jumped into separate vehicles and raced to the area, but the Blazer was nowhere to be seen.
The next message that came in said it was seen on Keller Road, so they headed that way but again, no luck.
Chad was on his way to the CHP office in Oakhurst to file a report when he came upon a fender-bender on Road 426, and found the officer who was on his way to their house. So he stopped and made contact with CHP officer Chris Jensen who joined the search after dealing with the accident, along with Madera County Sheriff’s Sgt. Larry Rich and Deputy Paul Chetwood.
“We were driving around the roads, up and down, all over the place,” says Lucretia. “It’s big, it’s orange; you’re not going to miss it.”
Then a message came in from a J.S. West Propane delivery driver Chris Henningfeld, who had spotted the Blazer headed towards Manzanita Lake, and the search area shifted to the east.
Meanwhile, a friend who knew the Blazer had been stolen decided to check back at the shop on Wilcox Drive.
“I’m thinking maybe these ding-a-lings decided to bring it back, because it’s all over Facebook,” said the friend, who did not wish to be identified.
After checking the shop and failing to locate the vehicle, the friend was headed back out toward Bonnie B Road and spotted a male in a Jeep pulling onto Wilcox Drive – someone who “didn’t belong there, and doesn’t live there.”
The friend turned around and headed back, finding the suspicious Jeep parked right in front of the shop. The guy in the Jeep then pulled up alongside her – as she’s taking pictures of his vehicle and license plate, which, according to Deputy Chetwood, was actually registered to a Pontiac.
“He said, ‘Do you know where she is? Have you seen her?’ He seemed to realize that perhaps he shouldn’t be talking to me, and took off,” says the friend.
But the guy in the Jeep didn’t get far. He turned right onto Bonnie B Road, then turned onto Quail Hollow and tucked himself into a dirt driveway, all the while being followed by the tenacious witness, who texted the CHP. She also texted Sgt. Rich with the photo of the Jeep, and officers were on scene within minutes.
According to the witness, the driver of the Jeep – who was identified as Andrew Gaylord, 28, of North Fork – told officers that he had permission to use the Blazer and to be in the shop. He also reportedly blamed everything on his girlfriend and alleged accomplice, Heather May, saying “she wanted to take it, I told her not to.”
Gaylord was taken into custody and driven off to jail, but where was the Blazer? Lucretia says she just had time to park at home and walk into the house when the phone rang. The J.S. West delivery driver had spotted the Blazer in the bushes near the power house just north of Manzanita Lake, and was waiting to show the cops where it is.
Law enforcement knew there was a girlfriend, since Gaylord had reportedly blamed everything on her when he was nabbed, and said he had permission to use the Blazer because of a sick dog that needed help. So they could also surmise that there was a dog.
As they stood around the Blazer, a dog – looking “sickly and injured” — came out of the bushes, leading everyone to believe that the girlfriend was likely close by. She was spotted a while later walking several dogs along Manzanita Lake Drive, and was taken into custody by Sgt. Rich.
Further inspection of the shop on Wilcox Drive showed signs that the two were likely living there, since there were dog dishes and a pile of freshly cut cedar – apparently cut with Chad’s chainsaw.
The Williamses are just happy to have the Blazer back, even with the dog prints and lick marks all over the inside. It has been a decade-long project to get it up and running and on the road.
Ten years ago, Chad flew out to Colorado to purchase the 1972 Chevy, and took it to a guy in Oakhurst to make it into a daily driver, complete with a new, reliable engine. They paid money up-front to have the work done, but after years of nothing getting done and many requests for more money, the mechanic moved his shop to northern California, taking the Blazer with him, with Chad’s permission. He was supposed to finish the job.
After more years passed, Chad finally got a trailer and drove up to get the vehicle back, finding the whole thing in pieces and the work not done. He found someone in Clovis, Early Classic Enterprises, to finish the job and at long last, got it back in fine shape last August.
Andrew Gaylord has been arrested nine times since October 2011, on charges that include burglary, receiving stolen property, disorderly conduct, peeking into an inhabited building, possession of marijuana and paraphernalia, possession of forged documents, resisting arrest, felon in possession of a firearm, domestic abuse, driving under the influence, suspended license, and providing false information to a peace officer. He has claimed residence in North Fork, Oakhurst and Mariposa during that time. He is currently being held in the Madera County Jail with no bail.
Heather Jean May, 37, of Wishon, has been arrested four times in the past year on charges including receiving stolen property, suspended license, transporting/selling controlled substance, possession of marijuana and amphetamines, burglary, and vehicle theft. She is being held on a $50,000 bond charged with burglary and vehicle theft.
Both Gaylord and May were arrested in February 2016 for stealing a family golf cart in Bass Lake, and completely destroying it. (See article below)