Remember that story earlier this summer about the guy arrested for stealing sprinklers from area vineyards? He'll be in jail for over a year.
He had been gaming up at River Rock Casino until the wee hours, then drove his white GMC pickup to an Alexander Valley vineyard, parked at the back of the property and began removing those brass Rainbird sprinkler heads, one by one, up and down the rows of grape vines.
Three hours later, when he started to drive away with bags full of the sprinkler heads, Sonoma County Sheriff's officers nabbed him. When he was stopped, he had hundreds of sprinkler heads in his truck.
This week Sonoma County District Attorney Jill R. Ravitch announced that Thomas Barnick, 48, of Rio Nido, was convicted of grand theft stemming from a series of thefts of sprinkler heads from vineyards in the Sonoma, Russian River, and Geyserville areas of Sonoma County.
Barnick entered into a negotiated disposition that calls for a three year prison sentence under the new “realignment” sentencing scheme in which non-violent offenders serve their prison sentence in the county jail.
There were originally five counts filed against Barnick; he pled not guilty to all charges on Sept. 4, but after a negotiation pled no contest on Wednesday, Sept. 19 to two felony Grand Theft charges, penal code 487-A.
Barnick became a suspect in the series of sprinkler head thefts that began around October 1, 2011, after being seen in the area of one of the incidents. The series of thefts occurred at night, often discovered in the early morning as workers arrived in the vineyards.
The sprinkler heads, which generally sit atop PVC riser pipes over the vineyard rows are used for frost protection and irrigation. The sprinklers are made of brass, and are threaded onto the pipe, and are valued at $8 to $20 each.
In each of the cases, the thief worked his way down vineyard rows methodically, unscrewing each sprinkler. Most thefts involved several hundred sprinkler heads. Had a frost occurred before sprinklers could be replaced, damage to crops could have been extensive and costly, according to a statement from the District Attorney's office.
In several cases, vineyard workers found buckets or canvas bags full of the sprinkler heads at the ends of vineyard roads in early morning hours, apparently ready for the thief to return with a vehicle to pick them up.
Barnick was identified when he pulled up in a pickup truck to a vineyard where buckets of sprinklers had been left after being stripped at night. A quick thinking vineyard employee was able to get Barnick’s license plate number, and later identified him in a photo lineup. At that point he came under Sheriff surveillance, and was apprehended wet-handed shortly thereafter.
Barnick may be ordered to pay restitution for the thefts when he is formally sentenced on October 18 by the Honorable Gary Medvigy. The maximum sentence Barnick faced if convicted of all charges was five years, to be served locally under “realignment” sentencing rules.
As part of his sentence, he will serve 16 actual months in jail, followed by a 9-month residential treatment program. The remainder of his term may be served on Post Release Community Supervision, a form of local parole supervised by county probation officers.