The owners of a pair of grape harvesters that were badly vandalized last weekend and the owner of a Tracy vineyard have offered a $2,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the culprits.
The harvesters belonged to Manna Ranch Inc., an Acampo company that rents out harvesters to grape growers around the valley.
Last weekend, two Manna harvesters were parked on the 400-acre vineyard of Jeff Brown on Bird Road, where they had been used to take grapes off the vine for the past five weeks.
But sometime Friday night, vandals took the 10-ton harvesters for a joy ride, ripping out vines and trellises in the process, tearing up state fences along Highway 132, and causing between $30,000 and $40,000 damage to the machines, said Matt Manna. Brown said about $10,000 in damage was done to his vineyard.
"Those machines are built like tanks," he said.
Brown learned of the vandalism Saturday morning from a neighbor, Bill Koster, who unexpectedly showed up at the gate to Brown’s vineyard at about 6:30 a.m.
"You missing two harvesters?" Koster asked.
Brown, who was busy getting ready for Sunday’s Tracy Hills Art and Wine Festival, was oblivious that anything had happened.
"No," Brown said.
Well, Koster said, the harvesters are more than a mile away.
"They’re pretty messed up."
"My heart just sunk," Brown said.
Both were driven more than a mile, and one busted through the fence of a corral and came to a stop, Manna said, while the other got stuck on its axle, teetering on the bank of the Delta-Mendota Canal after the unsuccessful crossing of a narrow bridge.
Whoever did it, Manna said, went through the toolboxes, raided the safety equipment, shot off fire extinguishers and broke lights.
Sheriff’s investigators took fingerprints and gathered other evidence, Manna and Brown said. Both said they’d pitch in $1,000 each to whoever comes forward with information that leads to the conviction of the vandals.
"If I had to guess, these guys were high, or drunk," Brown said. "I think they were just playing around, having the time of the their life. That would be just a wild ride. You got to know what you’re doing just to keep these from falling over. It was just pure, mean-spirited vandalism."
Manna said it took the weekend and all of Monday to get the harvesters back in shape, and Brown said there were only a couple of harvesting days left before his crop is picked. The harvesters were back at work Tuesday night.
Brown said he also suspects the crime might have been tied to a tractor theft the same night about a mile from his vineyard.
Brown and Manna said they hope the vandals brag about the joy ride so someone turns them in.
San Joaquin County Sheriff’s spokesman Les Garcia could say little about the active investigation.
But anyone with information about the crime may call investigators at 468-4425, or, to remain anonymous, Tracy Crime Stoppers, 831-6847.
n To reach Tracy Press City Editor Eric Firpo, call 830-4223 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.