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Someone tries to topple Reagan statue in Newport Beach

Authorities said they didn't know if the person wanted to actually steal the memorial bronze because of skyrocketing metal prices or to make a comment on the nation's 40th president.

November 08, 2011|By Mike Reicher and Lauren Williams, Los Angeles Times
  • A bronze memorial of Ronald Reagan in a Newport Beach park is bent off its base after a theft attempt. The statue was later removed.
A bronze memorial of Ronald Reagan in a Newport Beach park is bent off its… (Daily Pilot )

Police and politicians were scratching their heads Monday over why someone tried to topple a Ronald Reagan memorial bronze from its spot in a Newport Beach park.

According to authorities, someone lassoed the statue and hitched it to a pickup early Sunday. The theft was foiled when the rope or chain slipped off as the pickup pulled away. A witness alerted the police.

The statue, valued at about $50,000, was left leaning from its foundation. It was later removed from its base.

Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman Kathy Lowe said authorities were looking for a man in a tan pickup. No other suspect description was available.

Police classified the weekend crime as an act of vandalism. Authorities said they didn't know if the person wanted to actually steal the statue or to make a comment on the nation's 40th president. Because of skyrocketing metal prices, copper thefts have surged nationwide. Copper is the main metal used in bronze work.

The statue, unveiled less than a month ago, had earlier been the target of criticism. City Councilman Keith Curry led the effort to commemorate the late president's centennial birthday, riling both Reagan opponents and supporters, who said they didn't want a political statue on public grounds.

Curry organized a group of private donors to raise $80,000. Some donors have emailed him since the incident to say they're "very sickened by it."

"It was a sad and pathetic act of vandalism," said Curry, who served in Reagan's administration.

Officials say they are still formulating plans to repair and protect the statue. The artist, Balboa Island resident Miriam Baker, is out of town and has been unavailable for consultation or comment.

Baker, an acclaimed sculptor, spent about eight months on the life-size likeness of Reagan. She had already made a bust of the late president for Chapman University in Orange.

That bronze piece was stolen in August, along with one of George P. Shultz, the late president's former U.S. secretary of State. Baker didn't make the Shultz piece.

Police say they do not have any information linking the two Reagan thefts.

mike.reicher@latimes.com

lauren.williams@latimes.com

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