A transient stole an antique car from a church parking lot and later crashed it in the river

by: PHOTOS CONTRIBUTED BY PRINEVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT - A 1930 Ford Model A vehicle belonging to Prineville residents was stolen by a transient and crashed into the Crooked River south of Prineville. In the above photo, an employee with STAR Towing carefully retrieves the car from the river.

The 1930 Ford Model A sat parked in the Church of Christ parking lot in Prineville on Sunday afternoon.

Little more than an hour later, it laid a mangled mess in the waters of the Crooked River alongside Highway 27 south of town, after being stolen from the church lot.

The antique car belongs to Jim Waetjen and his son and daughter, Trevor Waetjen and Kelsea Luebbers. But on this particular day, Jack Groves, a family friend, had driven the car to the church.

After the church service, Groves and other members of the congregation went to lunch while the car was left behind. When he returned an hour later, it was gone.

When Prineville police first heard about the car, it wasn’t a report that it was stolen, but rather that it was broken down on the side of the road.

“They went and checked (the reported location) and it wasn’t there,” said police captain Michael Boyd.

Shortly after, the police received another report that the car had been crashed into the river.

“So, apparently, it stalled out or some reason stopped running,” Boyd said. “The guy got it running again before officers could get there, drove further down the highway, lost control, and rolled it down the embankment into the water.”

For Jim Waetjen, the loss of the car was a major disappointment.

“That car belonged to one of the biggest, most well-known Model A restorers in the world,” he said. “He was my brother-in-law’s father. After his death, they held an auction. People flew in from Canada and all over the United States to that farm. They sold 32 complete cars that he had restored or was still restoring. They sold everything except that one car, and that’s the car that was stolen.”

Waetjen lamented that the vehicle was not only an antique, but a rarity among that class.

“That car was a 1930,” he stressed. “Every nut, every bolt, every part of that car was 1930, which is unheard of.”

After Groves reported the car stolen, Oregon State Police and local emergency responders arrived on scene where they located the thief, a 34-year-old transient named Erik Blake Haplin. Having sustained injuries in the crash, he was transported by air ambulance to St. Charles Medical Center in Bend.

Haplin, who had a Failure to Appear warrant in Klamath County, was lodged in the Crook County Jail and charged with Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle, Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants, First Degree Criminal Mischief, and Failure to Perform the Duties of a Driver Involved in an Accident.

Haplin was later released from jail, which upset Waetjen and his daughter Luebbers even more than the loss of the car.

“What happened, it doesn’t matter whose fault it was. We don’t know, we don’t care,” Waetjen said. “The point is a man committed a number of crimes, he was taken to jail, and he was released. He is walking around the streets of Prineville with a sign begging for money.”

Luebbers questioned why Haplin was considered a good candidate for release, particularly after his Failure to Appear offense in Klamath County.

“What’s really scary is this guy is back out on the streets, and next time he sees something he wants to steal and somebody approaches him, is he going to pull out a knife and hurt them. That’s more of a frustration than the car.”

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