Sprinkler thief faces 16 months
A Sonoma man, who was arrested in connection with a series of sprinkler-head thefts from vineyards, pleaded guilty to grand theft charges and faces 16 months in county jail.
Thomas Barnick, 48, accepted a plea bargain 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. As part of his sentence, he will serve 16 months in jail, followed by a nine-month residential treatment program.
Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said Barnick came to the attention of the Sheriff’s Office as the suspect in a series of sprinkler-head thefts that began around Oct. 1, 2011, after being seen in the area of one of the incidents. The series of thefts occurred at night, and were 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 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.
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.
Ravitch said Barnick was placed under surveillance by Sheriff’s detectives, who followed him to River Rock Casino and saw buckets and bags, as well as tools, in his truck. He was later arrested after surveillance confirmed he entered two vineyards and spent several hours in each during the early morning hours, after leaving River Rock. When he was stopped, he had hundreds of sprinkler heads in his truck.
The maximum sentence Barnick faced if convicted of all charges was five years, to be served locally under “realignment” sentencing rules. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 18.