Dan Levin knows that some cases are harder to crack than others.
But that didn’t stop the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s rural crimes investigator from solving the nuttiest case yet to come his way – the bold theft of three truckloads of 140,000 pounds of walnuts from an Escalon orchard valued at $378,000.
Levin was among five law enforcement officers honored for outstanding service to the community they serve and protect during the annual Manteca Rotary Don Asher Law Day Officer of the Year awards conducted Thursday at Isadore’s Restaurant.
The heist from the Gold River Orchards on Oct. 31, 2013 underscored the growing value of agricultural products on the black market.
Sheriff Steve Moore said Levin “had very little to go on” when he was handed the case by patrol deputies.
Levin, though, quickly set about searching for clues. The manner of the theft made it clear that someone had a good working knowledge of the orchard operation.
“The thieves knew exactly what trucks had the premium quality walnuts as opposed to lesser grade walnuts,” Moore noted.
Levin called upon the relationships he has built during the five years of working rural crimes and was able to make sense of some of the clues. That led to the arrest of two suspects and the recovery of two of the three truckloads of premium walnuts. He also recovered trucks stolen from other agricultural operations.
Levin was an independent truck driver before joining the sheriff’s office 12 years ago.
Manteca Police Department’s Officer of the Year is Jodie Estarziau.
The sergeant started her law enforcement career in Manteca 25 years ago as a police explorer. She came up through the ranks as a police dispatcher, then was a community services officer before becoming a sworn officer. She has worked as a patrol sergeant and now serves as an administrative sergeant.
Her duties run the gamut from overseeing school resource officers, the animal shelter, public information, and various administrative functions to grant writing among other tasks. She has secured $150,000 for distracted driving and DUI enforcement as well as a $733,000 military armored vehicle.
Angel Arcero was honored as the California Highway Patrol Officer of the Year for the Stockton Office.
Arcero, in disregard for his own life, rescued an elderly woman who had been trapped by fallen live electrical wires in her burning home following a traffic accident on Mariposa Road that resulted in a gas tanker exploding on Aug. 31, 2013.
He jumped over the fallen wires, picked up the woman, carried her back over the wires and then took her to safety by carrying her over a fence.
He has been a CHP officer since 2006.
Arcero for a number of years played an active role for the CHP in the staging of Every 15 Minutes accident re-creations to dramatize the impact of drunken driving to high school seniors.
Brenda Vaca was selected by her peers to receive the San Joaquin County Probation Officer of the Year Award.
Vaca graduated from Edison High at age 16 and Delta College at age 18 on her way to receiving bachelors in psychology at California State University at Stanislaus.
She runs the department’s juvenile assessment where — like all probation officers — must handle the dual role as law enforcement officer and social worker.
Vaca also volunteers at the St. Mary’s Dining Hall, teaches Catholicism at St. Mary’s and does other community volunteer work.
James Buzo was honored as the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Criminal Investigator of the Year.
He’s played an instrumental role in returning 75 children to their custodial parents since 2008 thanks to his diligent, patient and methodical chasing of leads. To find children that have been illegally spirited away he has worked with The Hague in the Netherlands and has traveled around the world.
“Seeing a child reunited with their parents when they haven’t seen each other for six months or years and watching how they react and cry makes it all worthwhile,” Buzo said.
Buzo has been a DA criminal investigator for 17 years. Prior to joining the DA’s office he served 11 years as a Stockton Police officer.