As the summer fades to fall and boats are hauled out of the county, there lingers a collective memory of crime and watercraft violations on area reservoirs through the summer recreation season.

From June 1 through Aug. 31, the summer boating season brought dozens of petty theft incidents on houseboats moored at Don Pedro and Tulloch reservoirs, and even more safety citations issued to boaters themselves.

Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office Boat Patrol Unit Sgt. Dave Vasquez said the operations of his unit were manifold. Individual and watercraft safety patrol is the unit’s main duty, he said, but crime abatement — including petty theft or burglary from marina-moored vessels and protecting the boats themselves from being stolen — played a big role this summer.

“We try to put ourselves in the best position to react to whatever is going to be thrown at us,” he said.

The intersecting weather phenomena of 2016-17, which began with 71.6 inches of precipitation in the Mother Lode and developed into roiling triple-digit heat waves this summer, brought thousands of visitors to Tuolumne County seeking relief on its lakes and reservoirs, which were pregnant with the winter snow runoff.

But fuller reservoirs, Vasquez said, didn’t translate into more law enforcement activity on Tuolumne County lakes.

“This season was actually slower than last season, even though we had more water. I don’t know if it was the heat that kept people off that water,” he said. “It was busy, but it wasn’t anything above average.”

Confronting crime on the water

The Boat Patrol Unit is tasked Friday through Sunday with patrolling reservoirs including Don Pedro, Tulloch, Pinecrest, Spicer, Cherry, Beardsley and New Melones.

Five different vessels comprise its fleet — a 24-foot platform vessel designed for dive teams and Search and Rescue (SAR); a 22-foot jet boat equipped with an impeller and designed for shallow waters; a 16-foot aluminum high-country boat equipped with an outboard engine; and two 24-foot aluminum patrol jetskis. Each of the vessels is equipped with radar and sonar capabilities for scanning the lake and reservoir bottoms.

After securing a grant from the state, Vasquez said, the unit plans to add a 24-foot patrol boat to the fleet later this month.

Like all law enforcement operations, the delegation of those resources is determined by the number of visitors and the expected frequency of crimes and code violations.

“We tend to go where the people are at and where the customers are at,” Vasquez said. “There’s so much water to cover that you try to… be as visible as you can, especially during the busy season.”

For the one to two patrol deputies sharing a single lake at one time, Vasquez said, daily operations can be “dynamic,” shifting from a vessel code enforcement or an injury on the water to the investigation of crimes to moored vessels along the marina or boat launch.

Though no total boat thefts were reported this summer, he said, “several burglaries” and other “property crime related theft” did occur.

“With incidents like vandalism and stolen property, most of the activity tends to be within a day or two of the weekend and over the weekend,” he said.

Various types of nautical equipment — downriggers, fishing poles, GPS devices, etc. — were the most common stolen items, he said.

“What makes it challenging to investigate is a lot of people do not live on their houseboats full time,” he said, adding that by the time many of them make a report, the crime may be days or weeks old, depending on when the person was last at the houseboat.

No boats were reported stolen in the Tuolumne County Boat Patrol Unit’s jurisdiction, Vasquez said.

Vasquez noted that Justin Labass 29, of Oakdale, who was arrested Saturday in connection to four boat thefts from the Poker Flat and Connor Estates areas on Lake Tulloch at the end of August, was actually a suspect in a boat-theft case from 2016. When the search warrant was issued to LaBass, he added, stolen property from another case was recovered.

A second suspect was also arrested on the 1000 block of D Street Friday afternoon. Calaveras officials issued a search warrant and discovered several stolen items related to the thefts as well as about three-quarters of a pound of methamphetamine and a semi-automatic handgun in a nearby vehicle.

Carlos Ivan Olmos-Garcia, 39, of Escalon, was booked into the Calaveras County Jail on felony possession of stolen property charges, while additional charges were transferred to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office for review.

Video surveillance has identified at least four suspects involved in the thefts.

When these types of crimes occur, Vasquez said, the leading investigative link often is when suspects post the items for sale on social media.

Code enforcement and lake safety

A large portion of boaters are not familiar with boating regulations and county ordinances, Vasquez said, which results in the issuance of more warnings than actual citations.

Still, 35 citations were issued throughout the Boat Patrol Unit area from June 1 to Aug. 31 for a variety of charges including not wearing or possessing flotation devices, bow and transom riding, reckless and negligent operation of a watercraft, speed and wake violations and lacking proper registration requirements.

The figure is dwarfed, however, by the 337 total warnings and 128 required equipment compliance inspections issued over the same period.

“Our primary goal is obviously going to be safety, and second to that is education,” Vasquez said.

During most vehicle stops on the water, Vasquez said, vessel operators are dictated the “ABCs” of boating from an informational pamphlet which details “how to recreate safely.”

More than 400 of the pamphlets were issued this summer, he added.

Citations and warnings are most commonly issued for bow or transom riders, which includes people with their feet off a boat or people learning over the edge of a boat, as well as life-vest laws. Bow and transom riding poses the threat of a person going overboard and being run over by the vessel, he said, and noted that life jackets are mandatory for children from newborn to age 13.

Also in accordance with the unit’s safety mandate, the boat patrol aided with 18 vessel accidents, 21 vessel assists, 28 person assists and performed four rescues over that period.

And though the patrol typically averages about one water fatality a year, Vasquez said, not a single death had occurred this summer until an accident Saturday on Lake Don Pedro that claimed the life of a Santa Clara woman.

More common for the boat patrol is assisting with water sport injuries including pulled muscles, broken bones or dislocations, and performing rescues on those in danger of drowning.

Lake Tulloch

Most of the warnings and citations issued at Tulloch are a result of it being a directional lake, Vasquez said, which requires boaters to travel in a counterclockwise direction along narrow passages and blind corner coves.

But the primary concern of boat owners and homeowners along the 55-mile shoreline, said Lake Tulloch RV Campground and Marina owner John Stivers, is the surge in petty thefts.

“You got people stealing radios out ot boats, stealing skis, stealing gas. A lot of the neighbors are getting really fed up with it,” he said. “They gotta stop this. It’s getting out of hand.”

To ensure better security, the Lake Tulloch administration responded by installing security cameras on the docks and marina entryways.

But despite these improvements, a range of nocturnal and illicit behaviors have persisted.

Stivers recalled a particularly discomforting incident on June 28 when a group of unknown boaters, riding up to the marina shoreline in a stolen boat, left the area in a car but left the craft behind.

According to Tuolumne County Sheriff logs, at 9:37 p.m. June 28, two men pulled into the boat rental dock carrying toolboxes and dressed in black. The two men left the area with other unknown people and left the stolen boat floating unattended in the cove.

When Lake Tulloch officials identified the abandoned craft, the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office determined it had been grafted with a stolen registration number, Stivers said. The motor also looked as if it had been stolen and reconfigured to fit the boat, he added.

The vehicle was confiscated, he said, and moved off the dock and behind some buildings at the Sheriff’s Office’s request to see who might return to claim it.

For about a week, the vessel sat dormant and ignored. Then one night about 3 a.m., another group of unidentified people loaded the boat into a vehicle and made off with craft, Stivers said.

“The only way to get in on the lake is late, late, late at night,” he said. “Hopefully there’s not a next time. It’s getting really frustrating to have all this petty crime.”

Don Pedro Lake

Don Pedro, with 160 miles of shoreline and 13,000 surface acres of water, was no different from Tulloch in the incidence of security and crime difficulties, said Philip Hetz, General Manager of Don Pedro Lake Marina and Moccasin Point Marina, but is distinct in that people moor their houseboats there all year.

Dozens of the residential watercraft are attached to an underwater cable structure, or moorage grid, and float along a gated docking system.

And though no boats were stolen during in 2017, he said, the continual issue of breaking and entering and petty theft has mandated the development of additional security measures.

“Hopefully we can get the point across that we are going to be more active in dealing with this,” Hetz said, noting that the marina plans to add a second full-time security guard to do rounds in the evening.

In addition, the marina plans to add a new wifi tower to improve “spotty” coverage, so boats equipped with digital notifications and security devices can immediately ping owners to “go right to their boat and see if someone is on there or not,” Hertz said

The Don Pedro Recreation Agency acts as the first responder in the Don Pedro campgrounds, boat launches and picnic areas, said Turlock Irrigation District Public Information Officer Calvin Curtain.

This year, no violent crimes were reported in the areas they patrol.

Pinecrest Lake

Pinecrest Lake and recreation area is one of the biggest tourist draws in the county, said Stanislaus National Forest Public Information Officer Diana Fredlund, who estimated that about 10,000 to 12,000 people visit the area on any given summer day.

On Memorial Day, she said, the Pinecrest area saw more than 17,000 visitors.

The vast amount of visitors has designated another shared enforcement situation, with the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office manning the water and Forest Service rangers providing security to the outlying campgrounds and lakefront properties.

Vasquez said that Pinecrest Lake is a particularly accessible recreation area for locals and visitors and, because of the restrictions regarding acceptable watercraft, is mostly devoid of some of the same challenges experienced at Tulloch or Don Pedro.

With a 20 mph speed limit on the lake, he said, you mostly encounter oar, sail and small-engine sailors or fisherman on the water. But because there is no houseboat mooring or extended on-the-water vacationers, boat theft is a particularly rare occurrence.

Fredlund said the two major concerns for law enforcement on the lake include boat speed violations and illegal overnight boat storage on the water and on the beach, which often impedes campers and fishermen from accessing certain areas.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.

By GIUSEPPE RICAPITO

The Union Democrat

As the summer fades to fall and boats are hauled out of the county, there lingers a collective memory of crime and watercraft violations on area reservoirs through the summer recreation season.

From June 1 through Aug. 31, the summer boating season brought dozens of petty theft incidents on houseboats moored at Don Pedro and Tulloch reservoirs, and even more safety citations issued to boaters themselves.

Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office Boat Patrol Unit Sgt. Dave Vasquez said the operations of his unit were manifold. Individual and watercraft safety patrol is the unit’s main duty, he said, but crime abatement — including petty theft or burglary from marina-moored vessels and protecting the boats themselves from being stolen — played a big role this summer.

“We try to put ourselves in the best position to react to whatever is going to be thrown at us,” he said.

The intersecting weather phenomena of 2016-17, which began with 71.6 inches of precipitation in the Mother Lode and developed into roiling triple-digit heat waves this summer, brought thousands of visitors to Tuolumne County seeking relief on its lakes and reservoirs, which were pregnant with the winter snow runoff.

But fuller reservoirs, Vasquez said, didn’t translate into more law enforcement activity on Tuolumne County lakes.

“This season was actually slower than last season, even though we had more water. I don’t know if it was the heat that kept people off that water,” he said. “It was busy, but it wasn’t anything above average.”

Confronting crime on the water

The Boat Patrol Unit is tasked Friday through Sunday with patrolling reservoirs including Don Pedro, Tulloch, Pinecrest, Spicer, Cherry, Beardsley and New Melones.

Five different vessels comprise its fleet — a 24-foot platform vessel designed for dive teams and Search and Rescue (SAR); a 22-foot jet boat equipped with an impeller and designed for shallow waters; a 16-foot aluminum high-country boat equipped with an outboard engine; and two 24-foot aluminum patrol jetskis. Each of the vessels is equipped with radar and sonar capabilities for scanning the lake and reservoir bottoms.

After securing a grant from the state, Vasquez said, the unit plans to add a 24-foot patrol boat to the fleet later this month.

Like all law enforcement operations, the delegation of those resources is determined by the number of visitors and the expected frequency of crimes and code violations.

“We tend to go where the people are at and where the customers are at,” Vasquez said. “There’s so much water to cover that you try to… be as visible as you can, especially during the busy season.”

For the one to two patrol deputies sharing a single lake at one time, Vasquez said, daily operations can be “dynamic,” shifting from a vessel code enforcement or an injury on the water to the investigation of crimes to moored vessels along the marina or boat launch.

Though no total boat thefts were reported this summer, he said, “several burglaries” and other “property crime related theft” did occur.

“With incidents like vandalism and stolen property, most of the activity tends to be within a day or two of the weekend and over the weekend,” he said.

Various types of nautical equipment — downriggers, fishing poles, GPS devices, etc. — were the most common stolen items, he said.

“What makes it challenging to investigate is a lot of people do not live on their houseboats full time,” he said, adding that by the time many of them make a report, the crime may be days or weeks old, depending on when the person was last at the houseboat.

No boats were reported stolen in the Tuolumne County Boat Patrol Unit’s jurisdiction, Vasquez said.

Vasquez noted that Justin Labass 29, of Oakdale, who was arrested Saturday in connection to four boat thefts from the Poker Flat and Connor Estates areas on Lake Tulloch at the end of August, was actually a suspect in a boat-theft case from 2016. When the search warrant was issued to LaBass, he added, stolen property from another case was recovered.

A second suspect was also arrested on the 1000 block of D Street Friday afternoon. Calaveras officials issued a search warrant and discovered several stolen items related to the thefts as well as about three-quarters of a pound of methamphetamine and a semi-automatic handgun in a nearby vehicle.

Carlos Ivan Olmos-Garcia, 39, of Escalon, was booked into the Calaveras County Jail on felony possession of stolen property charges, while additional charges were transferred to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office for review.

Video surveillance has identified at least four suspects involved in the thefts.

When these types of crimes occur, Vasquez said, the leading investigative link often is when suspects post the items for sale on social media.

Code enforcement and lake safety

A large portion of boaters are not familiar with boating regulations and county ordinances, Vasquez said, which results in the issuance of more warnings than actual citations.

Still, 35 citations were issued throughout the Boat Patrol Unit area from June 1 to Aug. 31 for a variety of charges including not wearing or possessing flotation devices, bow and transom riding, reckless and negligent operation of a watercraft, speed and wake violations and lacking proper registration requirements.

The figure is dwarfed, however, by the 337 total warnings and 128 required equipment compliance inspections issued over the same period.

“Our primary goal is obviously going to be safety, and second to that is education,” Vasquez said.

During most vehicle stops on the water, Vasquez said, vessel operators are dictated the “ABCs” of boating from an informational pamphlet which details “how to recreate safely.”

More than 400 of the pamphlets were issued this summer, he added.

Citations and warnings are most commonly issued for bow or transom riders, which includes people with their feet off a boat or people learning over the edge of a boat, as well as life-vest laws. Bow and transom riding poses the threat of a person going overboard and being run over by the vessel, he said, and noted that life jackets are mandatory for children from newborn to age 13.

Also in accordance with the unit’s safety mandate, the boat patrol aided with 18 vessel accidents, 21 vessel assists, 28 person assists and performed four rescues over that period.

And though the patrol typically averages about one water fatality a year, Vasquez said, not a single death had occurred this summer until an accident Saturday on Lake Don Pedro that claimed the life of a Santa Clara woman.

More common for the boat patrol is assisting with water sport injuries including pulled muscles, broken bones or dislocations, and performing rescues on those in danger of drowning.

Lake Tulloch

Most of the warnings and citations issued at Tulloch are a result of it being a directional lake, Vasquez said, which requires boaters to travel in a counterclockwise direction along narrow passages and blind corner coves.

But the primary concern of boat owners and homeowners along the 55-mile shoreline, said Lake Tulloch RV Campground and Marina owner John Stivers, is the surge in petty thefts.

“You got people stealing radios out ot boats, stealing skis, stealing gas. A lot of the neighbors are getting really fed up with it,” he said. “They gotta stop this. It’s getting out of hand.”

To ensure better security, the Lake Tulloch administration responded by installing security cameras on the docks and marina entryways.

But despite these improvements, a range of nocturnal and illicit behaviors have persisted.

Stivers recalled a particularly discomforting incident on June 28 when a group of unknown boaters, riding up to the marina shoreline in a stolen boat, left the area in a car but left the craft behind.

According to Tuolumne County Sheriff logs, at 9:37 p.m. June 28, two men pulled into the boat rental dock carrying toolboxes and dressed in black. The two men left the area with other unknown people and left the stolen boat floating unattended in the cove.

When Lake Tulloch officials identified the abandoned craft, the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office determined it had been grafted with a stolen registration number, Stivers said. The motor also looked as if it had been stolen and reconfigured to fit the boat, he added.

The vehicle was confiscated, he said, and moved off the dock and behind some buildings at the Sheriff’s Office’s request to see who might return to claim it.

For about a week, the vessel sat dormant and ignored. Then one night about 3 a.m., another group of unidentified people loaded the boat into a vehicle and made off with craft, Stivers said.

“The only way to get in on the lake is late, late, late at night,” he said. “Hopefully there’s not a next time. It’s getting really frustrating to have all this petty crime.”

Don Pedro Lake

Don Pedro, with 160 miles of shoreline and 13,000 surface acres of water, was no different from Tulloch in the incidence of security and crime difficulties, said Philip Hetz, General Manager of Don Pedro Lake Marina and Moccasin Point Marina, but is distinct in that people moor their houseboats there all year.

Dozens of the residential watercraft are attached to an underwater cable structure, or moorage grid, and float along a gated docking system.

And though no boats were stolen during in 2017, he said, the continual issue of breaking and entering and petty theft has mandated the development of additional security measures.

“Hopefully we can get the point across that we are going to be more active in dealing with this,” Hetz said, noting that the marina plans to add a second full-time security guard to do rounds in the evening.

In addition, the marina plans to add a new wifi tower to improve “spotty” coverage, so boats equipped with digital notifications and security devices can immediately ping owners to “go right to their boat and see if someone is on there or not,” Hertz said

The Don Pedro Recreation Agency acts as the first responder in the Don Pedro campgrounds, boat launches and picnic areas, said Turlock Irrigation District Public Information Officer Calvin Curtain.

This year, no violent crimes were reported in the areas they patrol.

Pinecrest Lake

Pinecrest Lake and recreation area is one of the biggest tourist draws in the county, said Stanislaus National Forest Public Information Officer Diana Fredlund, who estimated that about 10,000 to 12,000 people visit the area on any given summer day.

On Memorial Day, she said, the Pinecrest area saw more than 17,000 visitors.

The vast amount of visitors has designated another shared enforcement situation, with the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office manning the water and Forest Service rangers providing security to the outlying campgrounds and lakefront properties.

Vasquez said that Pinecrest Lake is a particularly accessible recreation area for locals and visitors and, because of the restrictions regarding acceptable watercraft, is mostly devoid of some of the same challenges experienced at Tulloch or Don Pedro.

With a 20 mph speed limit on the lake, he said, you mostly encounter oar, sail and small-engine sailors or fisherman on the water. But because there is no houseboat mooring or extended on-the-water vacationers, boat theft is a particularly rare occurrence.

Fredlund said the two major concerns for law enforcement on the lake include boat speed violations and illegal overnight boat storage on the water and on the beach, which often impedes campers and fishermen from accessing certain areas.

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