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After a gardener's truck was stolen, along with his rent money, cell phone and equipment, officers stepped in and paid to replace it all

CNN logo CNN 3/30/2019 By Ryan Prior, CNN
a group of people standing on a cart: Officers show off the replacement equipment they bought. © Santa Ana Police Department Officers show off the replacement equipment they bought.

On Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., Adrian Salgado was starting off his day as a gardener in Santa Ana, California, just outside Los Angeles. It was a day like any other.

But then thieves stole his Toyota pickup truck, cell phone and landscaping equipment, along with $1,000 of rent money he'd been saving up for months.

He chased after the two men on foot, but they drove off in the truck.

Anthony Bertagna, a spokesman for the Santa Ana Police Department, said Salgado let his daughter, Elizabeth, know what had happened. She called 911.

a person standing in front of a store: The officers do their shopping. © Santa Ana Police Department The officers do their shopping.

The chase

The officers tracked down the truck with Elizabeth's help, using her Find My iPhone app, according to Bertagna.

The police cornered the two suspects in Westminster, the next town over. When they arrested the two men, they each had $500 in cash in their pockets, but said it was their own money. So by law, the officers could only enter the cash as evidence, and couldn't return the money to Salgado.

The equipment -- which included a lawnmower, edger, hand tools, leaf blower -- was gone, along with other items in the truck. In addition to the missing cash, police estimated the value of the missing items at $3,000.

"He may never get that money back unless they change their story," Bertagna said.

The landscaper looked like officers' fathers

Salgado's plight tugged at the officers.

His job as a landscaper is his only means of supporting himself and his family. And, especially after losing the $1,000, he had no means of replacing his tools.

"We all came from working-class families," said Sgt. Michael Gonzalez. He said when they looked at Salgado, it was like they were seeing their own fathers. "It was like, 'hey, that's my dad,'" he said.

Another officer, Lysette Murillo, who's only been on the force for a couple of weeks, said she had an idea to replace Salgado's property. The officers pulled together $500 of their own money.

They contacted Santa Ana Police Officers Association's President Gerry Serrano, who told CNN they'd been "touched by the story" of how Salgado was the sole provider for his family. The police officers association donated another $500 and seven officers walked the aisles of a Home Depot to buy replacements for the stolen tools.

The local Home Depot chipped in another $100 toward Salgado's new equipment, and offered military discounts because several of the officers are reservists.

One shopper asked what they were doing and handed them another 40 bucks.

Gonzalez said he was most amazed by what happened next. Salgado took the items home, opened them, and went back to work because he had clients to serve. "That's what floored everyone," he said.

In a video posted to the Santa Ana Police Officers Association's Facebook page on Wednesday, Elizabeth thanked the Santa Ana police. "They pitched in," she said, adding, "Now I can see my dad with a smile because he can go back to work."

One woman saw the Santa Ana PD's Facebook post about the story and wrote, "This gentleman is my mother's gardener and has been for over 15 years. He's the most wonderful man. The SAPD couldn't have helped a more considerate person."

"I've been doing this job for 27 years. Every so often it's a good day. That was a good day," Gonzalez said.

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