Clever detective work by the race cars’ owner is what found the thief.
With Hurricane Ian devastating much of Florida, street stock racer Jeff Stalnaker locked his two race cars in a trailer to keep them safe from the storm. While the hurricane ended up sparing Stalnaker's hometown of Ocala, Florida, he ended up suffering costly damages anyway. A thief backed his truck up to Stalnaker's gooseneck trailer, hitched it up, and drove it away, unaware of its contents. Apparently, the thief was disappointed with his race car look, so he ended up burying the two cars in an abandoned sand pit. Thankfully, due to the impressive detective work done by Stalnaker, his family, and his friends, he found his stolen goods. Unfortunately, very little is salvageable. Excavator Steel Track Pads
The thief is allegedly Alex Sloane Herring and they are currently in police custody. Trailer theft such as this isn't entirely uncommon, as thieves hope to score valuable goodies hiding inside. It's like that Storage Wars show, only illegal. However, finding two race cars isn't exactly ideal for a thief, even if they are quite valuable. The market for stolen race car parts isn't exactly huge and Herring would have had to dismantle the cars first to sell parts anyway. So Herring may have felt the need to cut his losses and get rid of the evidence. To do so, perhaps he went to his employer's job site in the middle of the night, borrowed an excavator, dug a big hole, and buried the two cars.
But whoever stole the cars didn't stop there. They also buried all of the tools, parts, and other racing equipment inside the trailer. Stalnaker estimates the total loss of all the goods—cars, parts, and tools—at about $200,000. Unfortunately, very little of Stalnaker's stolen property is salvageable.
Whoever dug the holes stacked both cars on top of each other and then buried them. Crushed under the weight of nearly 15 feet of sand, both cars were almost entirely destroyed. Everything from the frames, cages, wheels, suspension, and even seats were wrecked. According to Stalnaker, both cars were sort of banana'd from the excavator bucket crushing them in the middle. And because the perpetrator dug the hole deep enough to hit ground water, both cars' engines were submerged for almost four days, which means they'll need to be sent out to be rebuilt. Needless to say, Stalnaker probably isn't going racing for a little while.
How did Stalnaker find his two race cars buried 15 feet in an abandoned sand pit? He and his family did some clever detective work themselves to find both their cars. Stalnaker originally parked his trailer for the night at his shop, which has surveillance cameras that allegedly caught Herring taking it. However, because no license plates could be seen, Stalnaker posted the footage to Facebook, asking for help identifying the suspect. Shockingly, he was swarmed with responses from locals that knew Herring's truck and spilled the beans. So Stalnaker did more detective work.
He found where Herring worked and spoke with his boss. As it turned out, Herring's truck was a work truck and his boss allowed Stalnaker to check it out on site. Upon closer inspection, he realized it was definitely the truck in his surveillance video. Because it was a work truck, it had GPS tracking equipped, which allowed the Herring's boss to track its previous whereabouts. They realized that it had driven to his job site's abandoned sand pit in the middle of the night, during the hurricane, the same night it was stolen.
So the trap was set. Herring's boss called him to tell him that both Stanlaker and the police knew it was him that stole the trailer and things would be better for him if he gave the stolen goods back. So Herring went to the dig site at around 9 that night, where Stalnaker and his family were hiding in the woods, watching him dig everything up with the same excavator used to bury it all. It took almost six hours for Herring to finally reach the cars. Once they knew it was their stuff in the hole, they called the police, who eventually arrested Herring.
Herring was on probation when he allegedly stole Stalnaker's trailer, having been released on March 2, after serving six months in jail for grand theft auto. He also had a prior history of stealing trailers.
Since he was on probation when he stole the trailer, he's currently being held without bond. He's facing nine charges—three count of grand theft auto (both cars and the trailer), two counts of criminal mischief, one count of tampering with evidence, one count of carrying a concealed firearm without a license, one count of resisting arrest, and one count of violating his parole.
If there's a silver lining to this, it's the incredible support Stalnaker has received from his racing community, even from rivals. Teams that he's fiercely competed against over the years have reached out in support, offering parts and even cars to help him get back on track. Stalnaker hasn't decided when he'll get back to racing but he knows that when he does he'll have the support of his community.
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