The missing “Rhino” utility vehicle taken over the New Year’s holiday from Ripon High School was discovered in a northeast Manteca neighborhood at about 4 a.m. Tuesday parked on a residential street.
Solid Waste truck driver Robert Sumner noticed the abandoned four-wheeler at the corner of Diamond Oak Way and Napa Valley Avenue, north of Louise Avenue and midway between Highway 99 and Austin Road. A replacement vehicle had been valued at $11,500 by a Yamaha dealer in Modesto.
Sumner had returned to the city yard shortly after seeing the strange-looking, out-of-place vehicle and told his supervisor about his find. He noted he had seen a story in the Manteca Bulletin about a similar vehicle having been stolen from the Ripon High School stadium and wondered if it could be one and the same.
Manteca Police were dispatched and they in turn called the Ripon Police Department.
Ripon Athletic Foundation President Stephanie Hobbs was delighted when she got the call telling her the Rhino had been found. She and her son TJ headed for Manteca before he was scheduled to leave for school. They took a can of gasoline and jumper cables with them, just in case.
They found the Rhino with the key still in the ignition, a dead battery and an empty gas tank, along with a Manteca Police officer standing by. TJ successfully jump-started the vehicle. The high school senior drove the Rhino back to Ripon at 35 miles an hour with his mom following in the family pickup truck with her emergency flashers activated.
The utility vehicle had been a backbone of the athletic stadium reconstruction project for the last three years and had also been used by the RHS baseball and volleyball coaches. It had been taken over two days of the New Year’s holiday. Someone had cut a hole in the chain link fencing just north of the football field’s visitors’ bleachers.
Police said they had found an exit cut in the chain link fence near the railroad tracks, following the tire tracks and footprints along the railroad main line. They only tracked it a short way when the trail went cold. The incident drew the ire of countless members of the Ripon community who had either worked on the project or had donated money towards its million dollar plus completion costs.