A rocket launcher stolen from Camp Pendleton, Calif., was recovered during a routine traffic stop last Thursday in Liberty. The stop was initiated by Pct. 2 Deputy Constable John Tucker in front of Auto Zone in Liberty.
The driver of the vehicle, a U.S. Marine with just four months left to serve, reportedly told Tucker that he was going to give the rocket launcher to his stepfather as a gift.
“I guess buying your old man a shotgun isn’t good enough these days,” Tucker told Bluebonnet News.
The vehicle was stopped for a minor speeding infraction – just six miles over the speed limit.
“I walked up to the vehicle and I always say the same thing to people as I approach. I say, ‘Are you traveling with anything illegal like rocket launchers, hand grenades or machine guns?’ The guy then told me he had a rocket launcher in the car,” Tucker said. “I thought he was joking so I explained to him that I always say that to people when I approach their vehicles. He told me again he had a rocket launcher in the car.”
Seeing that the young man was serious, Tucker handcuffed and detained him while he searched the vehicle. In the backseat, he found an AT 4 anti-tank rocket launcher. It was not decommissioned, meaning that it still had the firing mechanism in place. However, there were no ordnances in the vehicle for the rocket launcher.
Tucker explained that he radioed for dispatchers to contact the ATF, the federal agency that regulates alcohol, tobacco and firearms. The ATF asked Tucker to photograph everything – the driver, his license and identifying information and the rocket launcher. A few moments later, Tucker said the ATF notified him that through a check with Fort Polk it had been discovered that the rocket launcher was stolen from Camp Pendleton, Calif.
“They told me to let him go. They didn’t have anything on military equipment [to hold him on]. The feds will be taking over any investigation, if there is one,” Tucker said. “I just don’t understand how something like this made it off the base without someone knowing about it.”
Tucker added that the Marine was of Middle Eastern descent.
“I don’t know that he was an American citizen on paper but we do know that he was an active Marine,” he said.
For now, the Pct. 2 Constable’s Office has the rocket launcher under lock and key while a decision is made on where it will be sent. The constable’s office displayed the item at Tuesday night’s National Night Out event in Daisetta. People from the community were interested to see a rocket launcher up close.
“People were amazed that something like that was just rolling down the highway in Liberty County. It goes to show you that a traffic stop, even one just six miles over the speed limit, can lead to something more. It’s not always the stop. It’s what it can lead to,” he said.