by Rob Malcolm

SUTTER COUNTY (CBS13) — Officials in Sutter County are looking to two brazen thieves who used bolt cutters to vandalize a levee gate, and allegedly stole a John Deere Gator from an 81-year-old farmer.

The crime has neighbors upset especially in a flood-prone region. Officials say the damage here will put the entire community at risk over time.

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The levee is an important safety measure and not the place for recreational vehicles. Officials want to drive that message home by catching the culprits and discouraging others from following in their tracks.

At 1 a.m. Sunday, security cameras caught the vandals cutting the gates at the levee located along Second Street in Yuba City.

“This is a constant issue that we have to throw resources at fixing these gates,” Andrew Stresser, the general manager at Levee District 1 Sutter County, said.

“So our locks have been holding up fairly well, but you can see they broke the actual brace to that,” Stresser said.

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Stresser manages the levee. It was refurbished in 2017 to meet the 200-year flood standards. Any joy ride here, he says, does more harm than good, causing rutting on the levee.

The community has made investments for flood protection working under the same budget since 1998 and this activity creates a safety issue.

“We have telemetry systems, we have relief wells that have to be maintained and operated, and when people vandalize those, that’s resources we don’t have to repair,” Stresser said.

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In an effort to find the bolt-cutting vandals, Sutter County posted the video to Facebook Monday and 10 miles away, 81-year-old Ken Micheli recognized something.

“It was stolen from here it was stolen from right in front of my office,” Micheli said.

He said thieves were riding his John Deer Gator in the video, so he filed a police report. The vehicle is a workhorse to farm his 60 acres of Walnuts also his rice in the Sutter Buttes and Prunes off Hwy 99.

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“If I’m watering my orchard I drive through check the sprinklers with it I can’t walk. I’m getting too old to walk,” Micheli said.

It was brand new and cost Micheli $13,000. He thinks it’s long gone and hopes the thieves know what they’re doing.

“They go up and down the levee with something like my Gator 4 WD, it’ll climb up and down and loosen the soil and if the water comes up, it’s liable to wash the water out and go right through Marysville,” Micheli said.

Steve Albrechd’s cameras caught the crime. He says this pair was simply crossing town north to south.

“They use the Levee as a shortcut so that they can evade law enforcement,” Albrechd said.

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That theory was also shared by the levee manager. He said the only thing they can do is keep making repairs as needed and ask neighbors living along the levee to keep a watchful eye for suspects.