STOCKTON, Calif. - It didn't take long for regional auto theft task force detectives to identify and catch two men suspected of stealing several Tillamook cheese vehicles.
The theft of a truck, trailer and three converted VW mini-buses happened Saturday in Manteca. The burned-out truck and trailer were found a day later, and then a day after that, the buses were located in a storage facility in the town of Copperopolis.
Police have in custody 32-year-old Brian Michael Lancaster and 38-year-old Ryan Anthony Monaco, both of Sacramento. Manteca Chief of Police Nick Obligacion said it appeared the men saw the vehicles on display, perhaps in Sacramento, then targeted them.
"They probably saw them in Sacramento and tracked them to Manteca, knowing they'd have to stop someplace and rest. Decided to take them, and being bright orange trucks and a trailer, they didn't want to be visible on highways 5 or 99. They headed to the foothills, not much traffic," Obligacion said.
The chief speculated the truck and trailer were torched to destroy evidence and perhaps the other vehicles would have been sold out of the country, or perhaps just kept for bragging rights.
Lancaster and Monaco were booked into San Joaquin County Jail on suspicion of stolen vehicle, possession of stolen property, arson, and conspiracy.
Tillamook Cheese Company issued the following statement, in part:
We are thrilled with this news and extremely pleased to be able to recover our beloved cheese buses ... the logistics and timeline for returning the recovered buses to Tillamook are still being worked out. As we await further information about the conclusion of the investigation, Tillamook would like to express sincere appreciation to the law enforcement agencies who have been tirelessly working this case over the past few days, as well as to all of the media outlets and loyal Tillamook fans that helped spread the word about our missing vehicles. While this kind of senseless crime is shocking and saddening, we are grateful for this happy ending.
Obligacion said someone with pretty good knowledge of the crime provided solid tips. He added that person would likely be eligible for the $10,000 being offered by Tillamook Cheese Company.