Competition robot found after team’s trailer stolen during visit to Utah

Team mentor John Yelinek examines the El Toro XXI robot. Photo Courtesy: West Valley City Police

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah, March 8, 2018 (Gephardt Daily) — A high school robotics team from California will be reunited with a 120-pound robot that was stolen during a recent visit to Utah, where they were competing.

The team from Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, California, was taking part in the FIRST Robotics Regional Competition at the Maverik Center last weekend.

The Monta Vista students won the entrepreneurship award, and the students’ robot, the El Toro XXI, helped the team advance to the semifinals. They ultimately placed seventh in the contest.

After the competition Saturday, the El Toro XXI was put into a trailer attached to a truck.

John Yelinek, the team’s mentor, parked the trailer about 7 p.m. behind the Country Inn and Suites in West Valley City.

The next morning he discovered that the entire trailer, including the robot and tens of thousands of dollars worth of tools, was gone.

Yelinek told Gephardt Daily: “We made it to the semi-finals, we had a party that night, we were very happy. Going home the next morning I went out to get the truck, truck was there, trailer was gone.”

He said the students were down in the lobby, getting ready to board their plane.

“It was total devastation, they were very, very sad,” he said. “They said it was very quiet on the plane on the way home, but as soon as they got back to Cupertino they started thinking, OK, what are we going to do going forward, and it was like, OK, we’re going to build another robot. The next day there was a meeting, and it was, here’s all the things we have to do to build another robot. In the meantime, we’d had calls, emails, texts from all of the local teams in the area, and they’re all saying, however we can help; you need tools, you need parts, we’ll help you, and so we knew we had the support we needed to build it. They’re very resilient; I’m very impressed with this team of kids.”

But the story didn’t end there. As Yelinek was driving from Utah back to the Bay Area, he reached Lake Tahoe when he heard the robot had been found.

“Three guys, we don’t even know who they were, but three guys found it and they actually Instagrammed our students and said, ‘Hey we found your robot’,” Yelinek said. So he headed back to Utah.

“I came by the West Valley City station and Officer Brown allowed me to take pictures of the robot, and I sent them back to the kids,” he added. “They were in another meeting, trying to sort out what they’re going to do and they could see from the photos they can start thinking about what they’re going to need to do and not do and what they have to do and what they no longer have to do. They were very excited to see the pictures, and see that we had the robot; it wasn’t just somebody talking, it was there.”

He said the only thing missing from the El Toro XXI was an expensive camera that the thieves cut off, and is still missing. Also missing are two large rolling tool boxes full of about $30,000 worth of tools and four totes that are full of extra parts and tools.

While the kids need to repair El Toro XXI before their next competition, they have said they’ll be ready to compete Boise at the end of this month.

Yelinek will drive the robot back to California so his students can make the necessary repairs.

“If I could get it back to them today they’d start working on it,” he added.

Police said the trailer was found abandoned in Millcreek; the Unified Police Department recovered it. The robot was discovered in Salt Lake City.

“It was very difficult just because we didn’t have a lot to go on, other than a blue truck, no license plate,” West Valley Police Lt. Kent Stokes said. “It feels great to return it to them. I feel bad that this even has to occur. We would encourage anyone who sees this story or hears about it or has any details to come to us and let us know so we can hold the people accountable.”

“In this case, luckily, instead of destroying the robot, or hiding it, or concealing it somewhere, they left it somewhere where it could be recovered,” he said. “We are grateful for that.”

Anyone who has information about the theft is asked to call the WVCPD on 801-840-4000.


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