As a commercial and hazardous material enforcement officer at the Fullerton PD, Scott Marple’s job is to look for trucks and large rigs for such violations as worn-out brakes, drivers using non-authorized truck routes and vehicles that exceeded length and weight limits.
On the afternoon of Jan. 18, with less than two hours to go on his shift, Marple was driving around the Orangethorpe Avenue and State College Boulevard area in his marked black-and-white pick-up.
It wasn’t a large commercial vehicle that caught his eye – rather, a mid-’90s red Jeep.
Marple pulled the driver over.
There was nothing terribly suspicious about how the male driver in his 30s was acting.
“He was calm,” recalled Marple, a 30-year FPD veteran.
That routine stop turned into a great arrest, with the driver currently serving a three-year prison sentence for auto theft.
Turns out the driver was quite the prolific operator of a “chop shop” — a place where stolen cars are disassembled for the sale of parts.
The driver, who eventually pleaded guilty, was operating the chop shop from the backyard and garage of a home he shared with a girlfriend and others in Norwalk.
Of course, Marple, 57, had no clue about this when he asked the driver for his vehicle registration.
“He gave me a song and dance about not having it,” Marple said. “He handed me a car registration for a different Jeep in his name, saying the paperwork must have gotten mixed up.”
Marple ran the VIN number on the Jeep he pulled over.
It came back stolen from Fullerton.
“I was a little surprised,” said Marple, who called for backup.
The driver denied any knowledge of the Jeep being stolen, saying he recently had bought it — the third Jeep he owns, he told Marple.
The driver was arrested, and a patrol officer took him to the FPD for booking.
The officer then handed the case over to Det. Robert Barnes, who sits on the Orange County Auto Theft Taskforce, a multi-agency body that includes officers from the Fullerton, Anaheim and Tustin PDs, as well as members from nine other agencies.
Barnes and fellow OCATT member Det. Randy McWilliams of the Placentia PD interviewed the uncooperative driver and then drew up a search warrant for his home.
A couple of days later, they found the goods: a Jeep in the process of having its vin number switched, a trailer with its vin number removed, and the remnants of another Jeep in a tool-filled garage, Barnes said.
He and other task force partners later were able to link those remnants to a Jeep found at a towing yard.
“We found evidence to link the driver to at least five stolen vehicles,” Barnes said.
The OCATT still is looking for an associate of the driver for another stolen car that has yet to be recovered, Barnes said.
“He was pretty good at it — he knew what he was doing,” Barnes said of the chop shop operator.
“This turned out to be a really good arrest. We never would have known about this guy if (Marple) hadn’t made that stop.”
Formed more than 20 years ago, the Orange County Auto Theft Taskforce aims to reduce vehicle theft and put more professional car thieves behind bars. Participating agencies in OCATT are the Fullerton PD, Anaheim PD, Tustin PD, Orange County Sheriff’s Dept., Brea PD, Placentia PD, Buena Park PD, Laguna Beach PD, Newport Beach PD, the CHP, OCDA and the DMV.