Jeff Jardine

Stolen car recovered, but at what cost?

Sam Cook talks Friday about his car that had been stolen while he was getting dialysis. The car was returned to him by police but was full of stolen property.
Sam Cook talks Friday about his car that had been stolen while he was getting dialysis. The car was returned to him by police but was full of stolen property. jlee@modbee.com

One week ago, Sam Cook sat inside DaVita Ceres Dialysis Center doing what his body demands of him three times each week.

When he finished, the 2001 Toyota Corolla he drove that day wasn’t where he’d left it in the facility’s parking lot. The dialysis center’s security camera, he said, captured images of a man and woman breaking a window and getting into the car in a matter of seconds. They weren’t so good at the hot-wiring part, though.

“It took them about 20 minutes to get it started,” Cook said.

No matter. Each dialysis session lasts about 31/2 hours. They had all the time they needed while he was getting his blood cleansed. And it certainly didn’t matter to the perps that their victim has had more than his share of medical and other problems.

Cook, 37, was born with a kidney ailment. He received a donor kidney in 1999, which enabled him to return to work at a metal company three months later. He also recovered from a hip transplant in 2000 to again return to his duties.

But the transplanted organ – by this time his only working kidney – shut down on him a couple of years ago, necessitating the three-per-week dialysis sessions. Add in car problems, and you begin to get the picture.

“My truck broke down,” he said. Someone gave him a 1995 Toyota Camry, “but the transmission went out,” he said.

His mother, Debbie Monaghan, said she’s drained her savings and retirement funds over the years to help pay his medical and living expenses because he only recently began receiving disability benefits. And when sister Kathryn bought a new car, she gave him her old Corolla to drive to his treatments and to chauffeur his 10-year-old son to school and other activities. That’s the one the thieves took in Ceres.

“It’s been a heck of a year,” he said.

On Thanksgiving Day, though, he received a phone call that gave him some hope: Manteca police found the car. Come and get it. But as the saying goes, when something seems too good to be true, it usually is. And was. Too often, victims are victimized in ways beyond the initial crime.

The towing yard in Manteca charged him around $350 to bail out the Corolla. When he got it back, he saw the damage the thieves had done: broken windows and other parts. Finally, they left it crammed full of presumably stolen merchandise that included items such as an employee ID from an auto parts store and assorted junk. It was packed so tightly into the back seat that he could have used it as a headrest.

In the trunk, he found a Makita demolition hammer that appears to be a rental tool, based upon the numbers written in ink on the exterior of the plastic case. He also found a scooter, brake shoes, a speaker and amplifier, along with a softball trophy bearing the same last name as the person charged in the crime. Not surprisingly, the bat on the trophy was broken.

The Manteca police arrested 36-year-old Gail Wesley Gardner on Thanksgiving morning and booked him at the San Joaquin County jail for being in possession of a stolen vehicle, a felony – and just in time for the jail’s traditional turkey dinner. He remained there on bail as of Friday afternoon.

But in an era of reduced police staffing, neither agency is likely to dedicate the time and effort needed to track down the rightful owners of the wrongfully amassed stuff, presuming they even filed theft complaints. Ceres police told Cook the case belonged to Manteca, which found the car. Manteca police, Cook said, told him it was a Ceres PD case because the crime occurred in that city.

“I feel bad,” Cook said. “This is somebody’s stuff. Somebody’s wanting it back. The rest of it looks like a lot of garbage.”

All of which leaves Cook much worse off than he’d ever imagined. They carried only liability insurance on the Corolla. He’ll be stuck for several hundred dollars in repair costs, including new windows and electrical repair.

“We had put new tires (on it) and (spent) $1,400 for a new clutch just before they stole it,” his mom said.

He had to pay to extricate the car from the tow yard. And he’s stuck with a car loaded with other people’s junk, which he’ll probably donate to a charity.

“Of course, this had to happen at the same time Christmas is coming,” he said. “The ignition, a couple of windows – it’s a real pain.”

But he has been through much worse – kidney transplant, hip replacement surgeries and a future that includes three dialysis sessions each week – and he’ll get through this, too.

“I’m still here,” Cook said. “And at least we got the car back. I won’t complain too much.”

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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