Year in Review - Cops bust chop shop
From Glenn County Counsel Houston Carlyle's drunk driving arrest after crashing his car near Elk Creek in July, to the armed robbery of the Willows Chevron by two men in October, crime was very much in the news in 2012.
But it was the January arrest of eight men and one woman, former Willows High School students, that brought an end to one of the largest auto theft rings known to have operated in Northern California.
Most of the "Chop Shop" participants turned themselves in at the Glenn County Jail after learning of their arrests warrants.
Cheng Kong Yang, 23, of Willows, was already in jail on an unrelated matter, when the new charges were brought against him.
The first to surrender in connection with the case was Michael Jon Baker, 19, who walked into the jail on Jan. 20, and later posted a bond on bail set at $50,000.
He was the only suspected member of the Chop Shop gang to plead not guilty on felony charges.
He is awaiting trial in February.
The others pleaded guilty to lesser charges and were ordered to do 40 or more hours of community service while on probation.
They were Toua Lee, 20, Paul Thao, 25, Shoua Yang, 22, Eric Yang, 20, and Jeno Yang, 21, and Timothy Emilio Hernandez, 23.
The woman was Lee Xiong, 21.
The arrest followed an 18-month multi-agency investigation led by the California Highway Patrol that began with a simple traffic stop by a Willows police officer in August 2010, who suspected the engine in the car he stopped belonged to another vehicle.
The CHP characterized the operation as highly professional and involved the stealing of vehicles for the purpose of selling the parts.
The task force eventually turned up five stolen vehicles, two engines, and 44 miscellaneous car parts at five separate locations.
In at least a couple of cases, engines were pulled from stolen Honda Accords and placed into smaller Honda Civics, possibly with the intent of selling the vehicles for street racing, the CHP said.