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Stolen Beetle comes home 20 years later

A 1966 Volkswagen Beetle, photographed by Darlene and John Peterson of Burbank who reported the car stolen in 1991. The California Highway Patrol is holding the vehicle at its Woodland Hills location, pending a court hearing to determine the rightful owner. Francisco Quiroz, of Northridge, said he purchased the vehicle in 1999 and has rebuilt the engine, among other work, which he estimates at $5,000 to $6,000. (Photo courtesy of Darlene and John Peterson

Two decades after it was stolen, a Burbank couple looks to finally be getting their 1966 Volkswagen Beetle back. But they’ll have to pay $800 to do so.

The strange legal case began last summer after Francisco Quiroz of Northridge discovered the vehicle identification number on his red VW didn’t match the one on his pink slip. The Department of Motor Vehicles instructed Quiroz to contact the California Highway Patrol, who on Aug. 11, took his statement and held on to the car.

Following an investigation, CHP officers contacted Darlene Peterson to let her know the car she had reported stolen in March 1991 had been recovered. But officers refused to hand over the Bug, saying that Quiroz claimed it was his car. John Peterson, Darlene’s husband, was less than pleased.

“They say the guy bought it in good faith,” he said. “Well, he bought a stolen car.”


For his part, Quiroz said he purchased the car in 1999, putting between $5,000 to $6,000 into repair and maintenance over the years.

“I rebuilt the engine,” Quiroz said in Spanish. “I invested in the car and reconstructed it – it wasn’t operational when I received it.”

A CHP report on the matter stated Quiroz was given the car as payment for work he did for a man who lived in his building, German Hurtado. Hurtado purchased it from an unidentified man in Reseda for $400, who had purchased it from a man in Las Vegas, according to the report.

“This has been a headache,” Quiroz said.


The Petersons, too, have had their share of pain.

At least five CHP officers, including Officer Kevin Baxter, have been in contact with the couple, John Peterson said.

The matter culminated in a Van Nuys courtroom Friday.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Alice Altoon called Quiroz a second victim in the case. She asked everyone to go through the receipts Quiroz submitted to determine a fair payment for the vehicle.

Baxter and CHP Sgt. Fernando Martinez were in court to provide their findings to the court and also reviewed the receipts with all parties.

Altoon said that to be absolutely certain receipts were indeed for the vehicle in question, the receipts should indicate they are for a mid-1960s Volkswagen and have Quiroz’s name on them.

That eliminated a majority of the receipts.

Altoon also said receipts dating to 2001, not earlier, would be counted, bringing the amount to $801.15.


“Everyone can go home happy, or unhappy,” Altoon said.

Darlene Peterson offered to write a check immediately, but the parties decided a cashier’s check would be given to Quiroz next week at a CHP office.

Her husband, though, wasn’t too happy.

“We have to pay $800 to get our car back?” Peterson said.