2018-07-18 / Front Page

Theft leads to discovery of neglected animals

83 animals rescued in 24 hours from Tulip Trace Drive, other stolen property recovered
Nicole DeCriscio

A theft investigation led to the rescue of 83 animals discovered on a northern Owen County property. 
SUBMITTED | SPENCER EVENING WORLD A theft investigation led to the rescue of 83 animals discovered on a northern Owen County property. SUBMITTED | SPENCER EVENING WORLD A investigation of a stolen camper led to the removal of 83 animals from a property in northern Owen County, located at 5695 Tulip Trace Drive, and the arrest of two individuals.

“On July 6, deputies with the Owen County Sheriff’s Department conducted an investigation related to the theft of a camper that occurred days prior… During the execution of the search warrant deputies discovered several emaciated species of animals caged at various locations throughout the property,” reads a release from Owen County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Matt Miller.

After concluding the animals needed veterinary care, the Indiana Board of Animal Health was contacted and a warrant to search for and seize any animals on the property was applied for by deputies and granted by the Owen Circuit Court. With the assistance of the Owen County Humane Society, Browning Sanctuaries and the Owen County Health Department, all animals were seized and transported to various locations for evaluation.

According to OCHS, the following animals were removed from the property: 29 potbellied pigs, two ducks, seven chickens, one rooster, one guinea pig, 11 dogs, seven rabbits, 11 goats and 14 cats.

According to Miller, Tonia Chanel Torres, 40, of Poland, IN was arrested on preliminary charges of theft, and abandonment or neglect of vertebrate animals. Evan Cole Vanbibber, 32, was arrested on a warrant for battery and preliminarily charged with burglary, auto theft and theft; receiving stolen property.

The probable cause affidavit released by the Owen County Prosecutor’s Office sheds more light into the events that took place. In the affidavit, Owen County dispatch received a call on the afternoon of July 4 from Jeffery Eckerman, of Plainfield. Eckerman stated that he owns a piece of property on Gerrard Chapel Road and that his camper was stolen. OCSD Deputy Ryan Combs took the initial report.

Eckerman called back two hours later saying he had located his camper on the Tulip Trace property. OCSD Sergeant Nathan Martin responded to the call and confirmed that it was the stolen vehicle. The camper was attached to a 2005 tan colored Chevy Silverado that was registered to Vanbibber.

On July 5, a search warrant for the Tulip Trace property and Vanbibber’s vehicle was granted, as the registration for the camper was still missing. The search took place on July 6.

Officers Ryan Combs, Brandon Gasparovich and Mitchel Fleetwood started by searching a camper that appeared to be the primary living quarters.

“While approaching the camper, we observed a small fenced area containing approximately five goats both adult and young kids. These goats did not appear to have any food or water, although there were empty bowls inside the fenced area. One particular white colored adult goat appeared to be deceased as it was laying on the ground and was not moving. It did not appear that this goat was breathing and was photographed immediately,” the probable cause affidavit says.

Deputies saw a large blue colored tent that was behind the camper that had hygiene items, cosmetic items and clothing items appearing to belong to a female subject.

The officers then searched the camper where they found several large pigs locked inside small cages. It was determined that the camper was a shelter for only the pigs.

“These pigs appeared to be in poor health as they were covered in their own feces due to being locked in these small cages. They did not appear to have any access to food or water, and it was obvious that they had been locked in these small cages for an extended period of time,” the probable cause affidavit says.

Gasparovich and Fleetwood left to take an emergent call, and Combs continued the search of the property.

Combs said he observed that the canines were also in apparent poor health and appeared to have no access to food and water.

“Each of the canines were very frail looking and each were showing their ribs. One particular canine which appeared to be a Rottweiler had several newborn puppies secured with it inside of a small fenced area,” the affidavit says.

Combs then found two more adult pigs and several baby pigs in a shed adjacent to the Rottweiler. Like the other animals, they too appeared to be in poor health, covered in their own feces and had no apparent access to food or water.

“This shed was found closed and secured where the pigs had no light or air flow to keep them cool in this hot weather,” the probable cause affidavit says.

Throughout the search, additional animals were found in poor health, in their own feces and without access to food and water.

Combs then contacted the Indiana Board of Animal Health and requested assistance. He spoke with Benjamin Poehlein who suggested the animals would need to be confiscated for their welfare. Poehlein also came to the property to complete reports for IBAH. Combs sought and received a search warrant to search and seize all animals located on the property.

Prior to Combs’ return to the property, he was notified that the suspects, Vanbibber and Torres had arrived at the property. They were operating a 1999 blue colored Suzuki. Vanbibber was arrested on an outstanding warrant.

Upon return to the property, Combs was approached by Drema Surber and Robert Sawyer of Roachdale.

“They informed me (Combs) that they had been sent to recover the vehicle Vanbibber and Torres were operating. They also explained that their property has recently been burglarized on two separate occasions and that the incidents were reported to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department,” the probable cause affidavit says.

Several items of stolen property belonging to Surber and Sawyer were found on the property and in a white 2006 Chevy Malibu registered to Torres. Torres was taken into custody due to the discovery of the stolen items and the condition of the animals found on the property.

Torres waived her Miranda Rights and right to council. Officers conducted a video and audio recording of the interview, during which she said she owned the property but does not primarily reside there. She also said that she and Vanbibber are married and permanently reside with his parents in Bainbridge.

Torres said all animals except one canine are hers and that she comes to the property to care for the animals “every day.” She also said that she attempts to feed the animals twice a day and that she was unsure how many animals were on the property.

According to Owen County Prosecutor Donald VanDerMoere, criminal charges are only allegations and defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

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