A 29-year-old man was arrested Monday morning after police found him asleep in a stolen pickup truck filled with boxes of hijacked baseball cards worth about $250,000, authorities reported.
Daniel Evinger of Orange was booked into County Jail on suspicion of auto theft, commercial burglary, and possession of stolen property, said Maureen Haacker, a Santa Ana police spokeswoman.
At 10:15 a.m., a parking control officer woke Evinger up and began citing him for a parking violation on East 21st Street, according to police. The officer ran a check on the license plate of the white Toyota pickup he was driving, Haacker said, and discovered that the vehicle had been reported stolen last month in Orange.
"When we called Orange (police) to check on the truck, our officer happened to mention that the truck also contained boxes of baseball cards in the front seat and in the back," Haacker said.
Coincidentally, Orange police were investigating two October burglaries at Edward's Baseball Cards Plus in which about $500,000 worth of sports cards were stolen. The owner of the shop, Edward Labate ) of Orange, went to the Santa Ana Police Department Monday to reclaim his cards.
"I am just like a 12-year-old right now," said Labate, 36, as he picked up his most valuable card--autographed by pitcher Nolan Ryan and priced at $1,500. It was lying among the thousands of sports cards scattered on a table.
"On my way down here, I thought, 'No way. They didn't find my cards,' " because baseball cards are easily liquidated, said Labate, whose cards were not insured.
Police said his shop was first broken into late last year. Labate installed steel bars at the back entrance to keep it from happening again, but on Oct. 2, the bars were pried loose and about $250,000 worth of cards were carted off in the middle of the night.
On Oct. 27, a hole was drilled into a side wall, and another $250,000 in cards was stolen, according to police. At that point, "I was getting ready to call it quits . . . and started calling (other) dealers" to sell the shop, Labate said.
One of the dealers was Larry Levine of Redondo Beach, who said he had about $250,000 worth of baseball cards stolen in July from a baseball show at the Anaheim Convention Center.
"It's great that Edward recovered his cards because (baseball) cards are very difficult to trace once stolen," said Levine, 40, whose cards have not been recovered. "They're very easy to sell and as time goes by, the chances of recovering (the stolen cards) are less and less."
Although only about half of his cards were recovered, Labate said that is enough--"If this is all that's ever found, I'd still die a happy man."