Toyotas account for a large make-up of the vehicles on The Ridge. Specifically, earlier generation pick-ups which can be easily modified and lifted for off-roading can be found coming down from the hills and even on most drives through town. Being that there are many around and handed down, 80’s toyotas are a popular first vehicle among teenagers in the area.
Bryson Palade returned to the upper parking lot of Paradise High School after going for lunch on Tuesday, September 8th. After leaving the Taco Truck on Clark Road, the junior parked his truck in the upper lot near the school office. (rework*When Palade’s second half of classes had ended, he came back to the lot before football practice, but upon seeing the space his 1988 Toyota pickup had previously occupied, the truck was nowhere to be found).
Bryson worked construction as well as at Savemart in order to earn money and modify the truck that he’d had since before he could legally drive. He’d nicknamed the two seater “Phyllis” and put every penny earned from the multiple jobs into modifications that include engine repair as well as a new paint job that him and his father had completed in their backyard. To see all of the hard work and investment that were attached to the 27 year old vehicle disappear in a matter of hours was a hell of its own.
“At first I thought one of my friends had moved it,” said Bryson, “They were kind of laughing so I wasn’t too worried, but then they all started leaving and I realized it was actually gone.”
The reality of the situation shocked Bryson but he knew that he had to act quickly if he ever wanted to be reunited with his truck in one piece. Since it’s more difficult to identify an axle than an entire body, thieves commonly chop down stolen vehicles and sell the parts individually, instead of flipping it entirely.
Fortunately, Paradise High School had recently updated their campus surveillance equipment and had the entire incident recorded. The footage revealed two middle age caucasian men in a green Chevy Tahoe pulling into the space next to Bryson’s truck.
At 1:08 PM, the bell sent hundreds of students to their classroom and Bryson followed them as he always had, to his architectural design and engineering course. Not ten minutes after he had left his vehicle the suspects arrived and wasted no time abducting Phyllis.
The scene unfolded, not unlike a crime film, on the screen before Bryson and office officials. It took just 28 seconds for the Tahoe pull into the lot and drop off one man who had no problem entering the locked vehicle and starting the engine. 28 seconds from the time the suspects showed up to when they left with the truck on Maxwell Drive.
As soon as Bryson saw the video he told all his family members and friends about the suspect’s description. His mom posted a notice on Facebook of her son’s truck and asked for everyone to keep their eyes out. The original post received hundreds of shares and different users chimed in about their support. A few variations of the notice were also posted and one even told anyone who saw the truck to give the thieves “Mountain justice before calling Paradise Police Department.”
Seeing everyone show their support made Bryson more optimistic, but the Palades didn’t just wait online for the thieves to show up. Thinking that it might have been taken off road, Bryson and some his relatives in the town took to the hills to try and recover Phyllis themselves.
With his father, Palade traversed down any dirt road they could think of in search of the truck. “We were going down all sorts of roads and trails looking for any parts or people that would have information,” Bryson recalls, “One guy had his truck stuck on Jordan Hill road and kinda sketched us out at first.”
Jordan Hill has been the location of several incidents in the past, but fortunately the stuck traveler meant the search party no harm. “My dad gave him a Hostess apple pie and he seemed thankful. Said he hadn’t eaten in two days and told us he’d for sure keep a look out for my truck.”
Playing the waiting game while searching the woods and checking social media proved painful for Bryson. All he could think about was his homebuilt Phyllis laying eviscerated in a chop shop. “Kids at school told me how they’d heard of this before in Paradise and that the person never saw their truck again. Same type of truck. Same crime,” he said ,”The office told me it was the first vehicle stolen in from the school in seven years though, so I don’t know.”
The next afternoon, one of Palade’s cousins saw a Tahoe that matched the description of the suspect’s vehicle. He reportedly called the police and his family members while keeping an eye on the car. The cousin’s intuition proved to be correct and owner of the vehicle was a middle aged woman who said that she’d loaned it to her husband and his brother the day of the incident. She didn’t ask them what they were doing with it, but they seemed, “Up to no good.”
After confirming that the woman’s husband was the driver in the operation, the police had him call his younger brother and try to get him confess to the crime. Once they had heard enough evidence, the officer jumped into the conversation and told the suspect to drop off the truck somewhere then tell them where it was.
* All the suspect’s names are being withheld as each case is still being handled.*
Palade said that the cops had run the suspect’s name through their database and found that he was recently on parole after being jailed for stealing cars. “The police knew he’d probably only get a slap on the wrist in court and they wanted to make sure I got it back in one piece,” Bryson said.
That evening Bryson, his father and his uncle drive in a convoy with police officers down Centerville Road off of Nimshew. As the road went on Bryson grew nervous but held onto hope that his truck would be around every next corner. He also held a replacement truck battery. The phone call that the police received just an hour earlier told them what road Phyllis was on and that he would be taking the car’s battery so that, “It wouldn’t get stolen again.”
Sure enough, a few more minutes of driving revealed Bryson’s Toyota standing on four wheels and in one piece. Instant relief arrived the moment his truck fired up and he was able to take it home. Though it had been just over 24 hours of searching, the time spent away from his truck seemed eternal, as Bryson could only imagine the pieces he’d put together by hand being sent off to different parts of the country.
A quick inspection of the truck showed that Bryson’s nightmares might have come true, had fortune not fallen into his hands. Surrounding the truck in the woods were pieces of other cars that had been dismembered with varying tones of rust, indicating that the area had been used to chop vehicles for awhile now. The driveline was dented like it had been stuck somewhere and the brand new paint job which Palade had recently applied himself needed to be completely redone. The suspect had actually started taking apart the interior as the stereo and some dashboard panels had been removed but were fortunately still in the cab.
“All I could think about was finding it with it’s doors off or something. I’m happy to have it back, but it sucks I have to put time back into things I already did.” The entire Palade clan is thankful for everyone who shared their post or kept their eyes out, but Bryson wants to make sure he never has to go through separation with Phyllis again, “ I’ve made some security adjustments to it so I don’t think she’ll be getting stolen anytime soon.”