By CHRIS BATEMAN
A body in a bag, a hot Cadillac loaded with New Year's revelers and a thief who couldn't drive a stolen Porsche and pulled over to read the owner's manual.
All were part of a three-county caper that unfolded Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
What amounted to a rolling New Year's Eve party ground to a halt at 3 a.m., when a stolen Cadillac carrying eight teens and young adults bottomed out on a berm near Columbia with squad cars in pursuit.
Four of the suspected car thieves surrendered to officers at the scene.
Four more ran from the car, which had high-centered in the Rambling Hills Mobilehome Park off Parrotts Ferry Road north of Columbia. All were captured within hours.
But two of the fugitives unidentified as of this morning told police they had stumbled across a body during their run from pursuing officers.
They reported seeing a skull sticking out of a plastic bag between Parrotts Ferry Road and North Airport Road. The skull, one added, still had hair.
The information triggered a Thursday-afternoon search of the brushy area between Rambling Hills and Springfield Estates subdivision. Angels Camp Police Department, Tuolumne County Sheriff's and San Joaquin County Sheriff's officers were involved in the so-far unsuccessful effort.
The search was to resume at 10 a.m. today.
"We don't know how reliable this information is," said Angels Camp Police Chief Tony Tachiera. "But we can't afford to ignore it."
If there is a body, he added, "we don't believe it's related to the stolen-car case."
All eight suspects face a variety of charges, including auto theft, possession of stolen property, resisting arrest and giving false information to an officer.
The last suspect arrested, 18-year-old Jacob Daniel Gosselin of Stockton, was caught after police said he stole a second car a 2001 Porsche 911.