RANCHO CUCAMONGA – A routine traffic stop in Rancho Cucamonga led to the recovery of a Tuskegee Airman bust (facial statue) that has been missing for over fourteen years. On Friday, April 7, 2017, at around 8:40 p.m. a deputy from the Victoria Gardens Retail Theft Team conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle for a minor traffic violation.
The deputy made contact with Brian Sawyer, 24, of Fontana who he learned was on felony probation and was not in possession of a driver’s license. During a search of the vehicle, the deputy found methamphetamine, heroin, a loaded handgun, and ammunition. A probation search was then done at Sawyer’s Fontana home. Deputies located another firearm, drug paraphernalia, and additional ammunition. Also found in his bedroom was a facial statue of an Air Force Colonel, that was labeled Col. Ralph Smith and the words “Tuskegee Airman” engraved in it.
It was learned that Colonel Ralph Smith, a Moreno Valley resident, was a member of the Tuskegee Airman, from the U.S. Army Air Force units in World War II. Most of the Tuskegee Airmen were African-American flyers and maintenance crews. Col. Smith was considered an American hero. The deputy contacted Colonel Smith and learned that the bust was sculpted by Don Winton, a world famous sculptor. The bust was given to Colonel Smith in 2003. The bust went missing 14 years ago and Colonel Smith believed he would never see the sculpture again.
The bust was returned to Colonel Smith on Sunday, April 9, 2017. “The emotional reunification with Colonel Smith and his piece of American history was worth every second I spent on this investigation,” said Deputy Lopez. Sawyer was arrested and booked into the West Valley Detention Center for the possession of a controlled substance while armed, felon in possession of a firearm and possession of stolen property.
Sawyer was arrested and booked into the West Valley Detention Center for possession of a Sawyer’s bail was set at $50,000. Sawyer was released on bail on April 9, 2017, at 9:46 p.m. and has no court hearing scheduled at this time. Anyone with information regarding this incident, or any other crime Sawyer may be involved in, should contact the Rancho Cucamonga Police Department at (909) 477-2800. Callers wishing to remain anonymous may contact the We-Tip Hotline at 1-800-78CRIME (27463), or you may leave information on the We-Tip website at www.wetip.com
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- Brian-Sawyer: Photo provided by SBSD - Rancho Cucamonga Police Department