Traffic Stop Leads to Discovery of WWII Artifact
Local deputies recover a piece of history belonging to a real-life hero.
On April 7th, 2017, at around 8:40 p.m., Deputy Daniel Lopez of the Victoria Gardens Retail Theft Team conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle for a minor traffic violation. Deputy Lopez continued his investigation and found copious amounts of illegal material inside the suspect's vehicle. As Lopez dug deeper he learned the suspect was on felony probation.
Additional deputies from the Victoria Gardens Retail Theft Team later assisted in a search of the suspect's home in Fontana. The team discovered further illegal material in the suspect's bedroom, along with a bust, or facial statue, of an Air Force Colonel. Engraving on the bust read "Col. Ralph Smith", along with the words "Tuskegee Airman." It turns out the Colonel depicted in the statue was an American hero and a member of the famous Tuskegee Airman unit. These heroic pilots were part of a U.S. Army Air Force unit in World War II that was primarily comprised of African American flyers and maintenance crews.
Lopez eventually discovered Colonel Smith lives in the city of Moreno Valley and contacted him. The Colonel explained that he received the bust as a gift from world famous sculptor Don Winton in 2003. Winton was later contacted by the Smithsonian Museums seeking permission to display the piece, but it was stolen shortly after Colonel Smith received it. Colonel Smith told Lopez he believed he would never see the sculpture again.
On Sunday, April 9, Deputy Lopez and the entire Victoria Gardens Retail Theft Team presented Colonel Smith with his recovered priceless treasure. "The emotional reunification with Colonel Smith and his piece of American history was worth every second I spent on this investigation," said Deputy Lopez.