From left, Jerry Starr, Robert Ross and Lonnie Leonard of Caveman Towing attach cables to a motor home that had to be pulled out of the Rogue River Canyon near Taylor Creek after thieves ran it into the river.

Last of stolen vehicles recovered

GALICE — A broken and battered 38-foot motor home, the last of four stolen vehicles pushed over a 200-foot cliff overlooking the Rogue River in the past week, was pulled out of the Taylor Creek Gorge late Thursday morning.

Like the 2000 Jaguar, the 2000 Chevy van and an older model Nissan pickup truck smashed on the rocks before it, the 1996 Kountry Aire motor home was destroyed.

The motor home, Jaguar and van were owned by Homer and Dicy Yates, whose North Applegate Road home near Murphy was burglarized when the vehicles were apparently stolen early on July 19.

"It's just devastating to have this happen," said Homer Yates, 67, a floor installer.

"The hard part was, we were coming back from Pendleton and were just this side of Prineville when the lady who had been feeding our cats called us and said the vehicles were gone and the front door was open," he added. "She was afraid. She had gone down to the end of the driveway to call us."

That was about 5 p.m. on July 19, he recalled, adding they told her to call the police.

"It was a very hard four-hours' drive for us," he said. "My wife loved that little Jaguar with everything she had."

He said the thieves also took tools valued at $8,000 that he had collected over nearly 45 years of installing floors. The tools had been in the van.

"The van was empty," he said, noting the burglars also ransacked their home, taking jewelry and other items.

"They went through our whole house," he said.

A U.S. Bureau of Land Management employee discovered the pickup truck at the bottom of the cliff Monday morning. Yellow crime tape was put in place at the site but when the tow truck arrived Tuesday morning, the other three vehicles were found, having been pushed over the cliff the night before, according to a BLM employee at the scene Thursday.

The van was partially in the river, pushed in by the other vehicles, according to the BLM.

The site is near the mouth of Taylor Creek, about three miles upstream from Galice.

"Our investigators are still working on this case — we haven't put it all together yet," Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson said Thursday afternoon.

He confirmed the three vehicles were owned by the Yateses. The Nissan pickup truck had California license plates but it was taken from an Oregon address, Gilbertson said.

"Whether the same person is doing this, we just don't know now," he said. "But that would be a logical conclusion. We're going to follow all the leads we have to solve this."

Pulling the vehicles up the cliff, particularly the big RV, proved challenging, said Lonnie Leonard, owner of Caveman Towing Service, which dispatched four tow trucks to the site. Before the vehicles could be recovered, Leonard had to first rappel down the cliff.

"I've been doing this for 35 years and, I've got to tell you, I don't care ever to do this again," an exhausted Leonard said Thursday evening.

In fact, he has helped fish two vehicles out of the river at that location over the past 20 years, he said.

"We've been trying to figure out how somebody could do this," he said of the turnaround leading to the cliff which has a steep, uphill grade.

"The best we can figure is they must have put it in gear and jumped out," he concluded.

The remaining debris left by the four vehicles will be put into a boat or rubber raft today and floated about a mile down river to Ennis Riffle where the material will be hauled to a dump, according to BLM officials.

"Our crews pick 200 to 300 tires out of the river every summer and we've had vehicles lost unintentionally at boat ramps but I've never seen anything like this," observed Chris Dent, Rogue River manager for the BLM's Medford District.

Meanwhile, the Yateses are hoping authorities track down the culprits.

"I hope they catch them and they get a lot of time out of it," Homer Yates said. "We hadn't used the motor home lately because we just had a new house built. We had intended to use it more when we retired. Now we can't."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at

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