Stolen basketball hoop returned to Hazel Dell RV park

Its owner praises deputy who tracked down former resident

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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When Don McClellan spotted a deputy in his neighborhood, the Sam's Good RV Park on the Hazel Dell strip, he told him about the basketball hoop he had bought for the park's children and how it had been stolen.

"I thought nothing of it," McClellan said of the encounter, which took place a few weeks ago.

"(The deputy) happened to walk out of the manager's office, I stopped and talked to him … It kind of ticked me off that someone would have just walked off with it."

Though McClellan, 59, doesn't have kids himself, he bought the $300 basketball hoop for the children that live in the RV park on Highway 99 for Christmas in 2011.

"I just put it in front of my RV so there would be something for them to do," he said. "It was meaningful to the kids."

The hoop eventually was moved to a more communal location near the park's laundry facility.

"The older kids would play with younger kids; it was a playground atmosphere," he said.

So when Deputy Fred Neiman Jr., investigated the crime, found the man responsible and had the man return the basketball hoop, McClellan was shocked.

"I thought it was lost and gone. Lo and behold it showed back up," McClellan said. "I was just dumbfounded. They (deputies) have more important things to do."

Neiman said the case was relatively minor, but added that "we investigate all criminal activity as best we can."

Statistics confirm that property crime, however, has a low resolution rate.

Last year, 28 percent of property crime led to an arrest, returned property or both, according to the sheriff's office. That statistic, however, may be skewed low because some suspects may be arrested later on for a different offense.

The same data shows that robberies are most likely to be solved, with 84 percent resolution in 2012. But theft is solved about one-third of the time and is the most common type of property crime in the county, with thousands of cases reported each year.

Neiman said he found the man who took the hoop by talking to those who live in the RV park. He learned that neighbors had seen a man take the basketball hoop, and recognized him as Don Reeves, a former park resident.

When Neiman talked to Reeves, he told the deputy that he thought the basketball hoop was intended for scrap metal and that he was allowed to collect it. He told the deputy he would return the hoop and Neiman did not ask prosecutors to press criminal charges.

"If there's a way we can recover property and avoid using money in the court system, then it's good for everyone," Neiman said.

McClellan said the interaction restored his faith in police.

"It reminded me of a Mayberry kind of thing," he said, referencing the 1960s sitcom "The Andy Griffith Show."

"It was heartwarming. I got choked up."

Neiman said that he appreciated hearing that McClellan is so appreciative.

"A lot of times on patrol, we get negative feedback," Neiman said. "It's nice to know that people appreciate what we're doing."

Patty Hastings of The Columbian contributed to this story. Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;emily.gillespie@columbian.com.