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Bass Pro car heist ends with four arrests
Manteca Police officer Armen Avakian holds a gun they retrieved after chasing car theft suspects. Officer Steve Schluer , left, and Kenny Wells, right, were among the other officers involved in the pursuit. - photo by GLENN KAHL

It was a dramatic “cops and robbers” episode over the Highway 120 Bypass Wednesday afternoon that landed four men in county jail with a half million dollars bail each over their heads.

Security officers at Bass Pro Shops called Manteca police about 3:30 Wednesday to say  four men had been seen stealing a car in their parking lot. They had video tape to prove it.

Manteca Police officers said the security detail at Bass Pro had done such and “excellent” job of reporting descriptions of the cars and the suspects that it was fairly easy to find them, They were apparently headed for I-5 via the Highway 120 Bypass enroute to their home territories of Sacramento and Stockton.

Security officers had seen four Asian men drive into the parking lot in a white Toyota — two got out — and they proceeded to enter a customer’s car parked at the side of the store.  They told police they saw the passenger of the Toyota hand what appeared to be a semi-automatic hand gun to the passenger getting into the Honda.

Within a minute of the call patrolmen Dave Brown was southbound on Union Road headed toward the Bass Pro Shops when he saw two cars on the overpass with four Asians matching the descriptions given by the store’s employees.

Brown said he made a U-turn on top of the bridge and dropped in behind them.  It was shift change and other officers were also converging on the area as Sgt. Ralph Colin — driving southbound over the bridge — recognized what was taking place and headed directly into the head vehicle.  Police said they had them totally blocked in.

Motorcycle officer John Machado said he was following some four police units, all with their emergency lights activated, into the area and could see the occupants clearly sitting in their cars.  He said they seemed to be in awe as they witnessed so many police vehicles headed in their direction.

At that point the two men in the stolen vehicle reportedly jumped out of the car and fled down the embankment toward the Highway 120 Bypass.  Kao Lor, 21, of Marysville,  still had the fully loaded semi-automatic in his possession, police said, as officer Dave Brown was in foot pursuit down the grassy slope.

Brown took Lor down after a brief struggle and the gun fell beneath his body, officers said.  The second suspect from the stolen vehicle, Song Cheng, 22, the driver of the car continued to flee as officer Grant Flory ordered his canine partner “Spike” to make his own kind of arrest.

“Spike” knocked the suspect to the ground and then took a bight hold of his arm and dragged him until the officer Flory called him off.  Medics were called to check on the elbow wound he sustained in running from the canine.

Meanwhile brothers John Van, 22, and Ricky Vang, 19, had remained in their car where it had come to a stop on the overpass.  Sgt. Ralph Colin commanded them both out of their vehicle at gun point and onto the ground.  

They were all booked at San Joaquin County Jail Wednesday night.

Lor was charged with vehicle theft, possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of a loaded firearm in a vehicle, possession of a firearm while committing a felony, conspiracy, possession of burglary tools — shaved keys he used to take the car — gang enhancement for membership in an Asian street gang in Marysville, resisting arrest and being a gang member in possession of a firearm.

Brown said upon the investigation all four suspects were found to have handled the firearm, each actually having possession of the weapon.

Brown added that Cheng had past felony theft convictions and was charged also with parole violation and being a parolee in possession of a loaded firearm.

All were reportedly Asian criminal street gang members in Stockton and Marysville and received similar charges by the police.

Brown said the time of the auto theft matched the department’s shift change that brought many officers responding to the radio call, “auto theft in progress.”

“They were only a few feet away from getting onto the freeway that would have become a dangerous high speed chase on the freeway,” the officer said.

He specifically said that  officers want to “praise” the security force of Bass Pro for giving such an accurate description of the vehicles, direction of travel and the descriptions of the four males driving off in the two cars.

The owner of the Honda was able to recover his vehicle at the scene.  He said he had driven from Sacramento because of a Bass Pro Shops ad he had seen on television showing “Yum” lures he said are very effective in catching large-mouth bass.

He too was quick to offer praise for the store’s security force.