Three people were arrested Sunday near Snelling after allegedly trying to steal an air compressor from a power plant.
The incident was reported around noon in the 18000 block of Highway 59. Deputies Rafael Chavez and Eric Nelson were en route in response to a possible theft report when they learned two California Department of Fish and Game officers had stopped a suspicious vehicle, said deputy Tom MacKenzie, sheriff's spokesman.
When the deputies arrived, Modesto residents Patrick Moffre, 48, Janet Darden, 43, and Ezra Eads, 43, were seated in a 1991 white Chevy van, pulling an air compressor. Fish and game officers were alerted by a fisherman who had noticed odd activity by the facility.
The compressor had been taken from behind several locked gates at the plant. The initials "TID" (for Turlock Irrigation District) had been painted over in fresh white paint, but letters were still visible, authorities said.
After looking inside the van, deputies found a can of white spray paint and bolt cutters.
The suspects invoked their rights and declined to speak to deputies. The compressor is valued at $20,000.
Moffre, Darden and Eads were booked into the Merced County Jail on suspicion of grand theft and conspiracy to commit a crime. They are being held in lieu of $25,000 bail.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or email@example.com.