A transient man was arrested on suspicion of grand theft Sunday morning after stealing a golf cart from the Union Hill Inn in Columbia and driving it on Highway 49 to downtown Sonora.

Sonora Chief of Police Turu VanderWiel said when the man was contacted by an officer just before 8 a.m., the man said he “felt obligated to test drive” the golf cart because the keys were in it.

On Saturday night, the man had passed out in the entry to the reception hall at the Union Hill Inn property, said owner Barbara Stutzman. The Union Hill Inn is located at the junction of Parrotts Ferry Road and Highway 49, also known as the Pedro Y, and the reception hall is at the east end of the property.

Stutzman said she was told by out-of-country guests at the inn that the man was impersonating a worker at the property when he passed out at the reception hall. The foreign guests covered him with an afghan to let him sleep, but Stutzman never saw him, she said.

The man was confirmed to be the same person due to a distinctive star tattoo under his eye, she said.

At 7 a.m. the next day, Stutzman said all seven of the golf carts were in place. About 45 minutes later, one was missing.

According to Tuolumne County Sheriff’s logs, three reports were made at 7:44 a.m. of a golf cart on Highway 49 that was “all over the road” or “driving back and forth on the highway.”

A report was issued to the Sonora Police Department at 7:50 a.m. that the golf cart was seen “weaving in and out of traffic” near Courthouse Park on North Washington Street, and the vehicle was pulled over by an officer in front of the Bank of America building.

The man was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, VanderWiel said.

Eric Freemon, 32, was booked into the Tuolumne County Jail on suspicion of grand theft of property valued at over $950.

His bail was set at $20,000 and as of Monday afternoon he remained in the custody.

VanderWiel said he believed the man was “fairly new to the area in the last couple weeks.”

Stutzman said she was concerned about repeated criminal acts at her property.

Last week, clothing, with identification and prescription drugs were found stuffed behind the bar of a gazebo on the property. Stutzman said they were not from the same person.

Also, approximately $2,300 in tools were stolen from an electrician working on the property, she said.

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

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