Police: Suspect in Reagan statue vandalism act drove tan truck

(Courtesy Newport Beach Police Department)

Police and politicians were left wondering Monday why someone tried to topple the Ronald Reagan memorial statue the day before.

The bronze artwork in Bonita Canyon Sports Park was lassoed and hitched to a pickup truck early Sunday, the Newport Beach Police Department said.

It is believed that the plan was foiled or failed after a witness called police and a rope or chain grasping the statue slipped off while the truck pulled away.

The statue, valued at $50,000, was left leaning and off its foundation. It was later removed from the base.

Damages were estimated at $10,000, according to Corona del Mar Today.

Police continued the search for the suspect: a man in a tan pickup truck who fled into the adjacent Port Streets neighborhood, said Newport police spokeswoman Kathy Lowe.

Unveiled less than a month ago, the Reagan statue had already endured criticism. Councilman Keith Curry led the effort to commemorate the late president’s centennial birthday, riling both Reagan opponents and those who said they supported Reagan but didn’t want a political statue on public grounds.

Police, while classifying the crime as an act of vandalism, said they didn’t know if the person wanted to actually steal the statue or make some kind of comment on the nation’s 40th president.

“It was a sad and pathetic act of vandalism,” said Curry, who served in Reagan’s gubernatorial administration and led the effort to raise the $80,000 for the life-sized piece.

Some donors have emailed him since the incident to say they’re “very sickened by it.”

Originally, the group had hoped to place the statue in front of the city’s $130-million Civic Center that is under construction.

After some opposition, officials proposed putting it in Castaways Park, the site of a granite and bronze monument to fallen Marines. City commissioners instead recommended Bonita Canyon, calling it a “better fit for good public access to the statue.”

The Castaways Marines monument was vandalized in 2008; the city installed a surveillance camera after the incident.

Officials say they are still developing plans to repair and protect the Reagan statue. The artist, Balboa Island resident Miriam Baker, is out of town and was unavailable for consultation or comment.

The acclaimed sculptor spent about eight months on Reagan’s likeness. She also made a bust of Reagan for Chapman University in Orange.

That bronze piece was stolen in August, along with one of George P. Shultz, the late president’s former U.S. secretary of state. Baker didn’t make the Schultz piece.

Police said they do not have any information linking the two Reagan thefts together.

Copper, the main ingredient in bronze, has become a hot target for thieves recently as global metals prices surged.,

Twitter: @lawilliams30 and @mreicher