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O.C. Harbor Patrol assists boater now accused of stealing yacht

Officers helped suspected thief take a $3-million yacht from its Newport Beach dock after he radioed for help

Officials say the Orange County Sheriff's Department Harbor Patrol inadvertently helped a man steal a $3-million yacht from its Newport Beach dock last week — after he radioed for help when he got stuck.

The suspect didn't get far, though. A day later, he drunkenly tried to ram a police boat in Long Beach, authorities said.

On Friday, Long Beach police arrested Richard Rodriguez, 32, of Whittier, and booked him on suspicion of boating under the influence, grand theft of a vessel, criminal threats and assault on a police officer, the Daily Pilot reported.

Last Thursday morning, Rodriguez broke into the 78-foot craft, named Stimulus, which was docked at a private mooring on Balboa Island, according to Newport Beach police.

But as he piloted the boat out of Newport Harbor, Rodriguez ran into trouble, sheriff's department records show. He got stuck between two docks, and the boat started drifting toward a sea wall, the department said.

Rodriguez radioed Harbor Patrol for help, and the deputies who responded towed him out of the predicament and escorted him to the mouth of the harbor.

"According to the deputies, he wasn't exhibiting any bizarre behavior," sheriff's department spokesman Lt. Jeff Hallock said. "He was very familiar with the boat."

Rodriguez said he knew the boat's owner, but because the vessel is registered to a company in Los Angeles, deputies didn't have enough information to track down someone to verify that claim, Hallock said.

Deputies would have found a $30,000 fraud warrant for Rodriguez's arrest if they'd checked, but that's not something Harbor Patrol typically does when a boater calls for help, according to the sheriff's department.

"The issue was the guy stealing the boat called [deputies]," Hallock said.

It wasn't until Friday morning that someone noticed the yacht was missing. Newport Beach police said a friend of the owner called them about 10 a.m. to report its absence.

After talking to Harbor Patrol, Newport police sent out an alert for the stolen boat and identified Rodriguez as a suspect.

About three hours later, Long Beach police found the yacht. It was seen moving erratically just outside the breakwater of that city's harbor, Long Beach police spokeswoman Nancy Pratt said.

Officers said that when they approached the vessel, Rodriguez started threatening officers.

"At another point, he attempted to crash into the police boat," Pratt said.

With help from the Coast Guard and Los Angeles Port Police, Long Beach officers eventually stopped Rodriguez and boarded the boat, according to Pratt.

Pratt and Hallock say they don't know what Rodriguez's motive for taking the boat might have been or whether he has any connection to its owner.

Rodriguez is being held in lieu of $150,000 bail, which includes the $30,000 fraud warrant, details of which weren't immediately available.

Jeremiah Dobruck writes for Times Community News.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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