BASS LAKE — Owners of a sporty red 1990 Jeep Wrangler stolen from their family cabin are rejoicing tonight, because their prized possession has been found and returned, worse for the wear but largely intact.
On Monday, Jan. 18, Tammy and Mark Johnson drove from Hanford to stay in the cabin their extended family has owned for a decade, and found the beloved vacation home door ajar, broken into. A litany of items were stolen, including a dryer, their plumbing, floor tiles, battery chargers, batteries, warm clothes, and other items throughout the place, all the way up to the garage and the Jeep.
Each room and storage area had been ransacked, and it was apparent the thieves were coming back for more: quilts were removed from beds, loaded with about-to-be-stolen property, bundled up for retrieval by those they did not belong to. Windows in the cabin were covered with sheets, and the family believes the items were taken some time between Jan. 4, when the last renters were there, and Jan. 18, when Tammy and Mark showed up. This burglary was not unlike others in the area in recent months.
Their story was shared far and wide through social media, as the Johnsons made clear their sentimental attachments to some of the special stolen items, such as the Jeep. The vehicle, originally her late dad’s and now more than 25 years old, held a wealth of family memories, even if it was prone to quirks — stalling out on more than a few occasions. That’s why they always carried a jump-starter when they took the Jeep out, Tammy said. The Jeep would stall, they’d laugh and wait patiently, jump it and carry on. That jump-starter was stolen, too.
That quirky stalling is quite possibly what saved the Jeep in the end — it may have stopped cold and refused to start, leaving the suspects up the proverbial creek or, rather, high centered on a log, as it turns out.
The abandoned Jeep was reported to authorities on Saturday, Jan. 23, by Forest Service personnel, and around 3 p.m. when the plates were checked and the Jeep came back as stolen, local CHP gave Tammy a call. The red Jeep had been found.
Tammy says the tow truck driver explained he’d picked up the Jeep around Road 221/222 in the Bass Lake Annex area near the water towers. It was stuck on a log, and it took him three hours to get that Jeep out, he said. The Jeep had been partially painted, black on the door, and the steering column and dashboard were trashed with what looks a hammer, according to Tammy. The stolen cover was on.
Now the Jeep will be inspected by the Sheriff’s Office and eventually returned to the Johnsons, who will treasure its little quirks even more than before.
Tammy says the family is very grateful to everyone in the foothills who shared the story through the news and on social media, and looked out for the Jeep, including the California Highway Patrol and the Madera County Sheriff’s Department.