Letters From a Bus
May 2007: Our New Bus
4th entry for May
Return to Letters From A Bus: Letter Archives


accused of Grand Theft Auto and Willful Property Damage

Photos of the two felons after the accident and just before they were detained. US Space & Rocket Center RV Campground, Huntsville, AL, 5/21/07

Small white dogs under house arrest.
Accused of grand theft auto and willful property damage.
Half brother and sister worked in tandem to drive truck.

Dateline Monday, May 21, 2007, Huntsville, AL.
Two small dogs, each weighing less than thirteen pounds, are being held for questioning after they hijacked a Ford 250 turbo diesel pickup truck from their owners, Elsa and Dennis Walton. The hijack occurred at approximately 10:45 AM in the RV Campground next to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center at One Tranquility Base in Huntsville, Alabama. The Cotons de Tulear are accused of driving the truck backwards for approximately 100 yards. It crashed into the front end of a 2005 Winnebago bus.

The Waltons arrived in Huntsville five days ago after driving across country in the pickup truck packed with the dogs and some of their household goods. They traveled from Los Altos, CA to purchase a new motor home from Bankston Motor Homes in Huntsville. They stayed in the Bankston sales lot while they learned how to handle their new 42 foot diesel pusher, an Allegro Bus built by Tiffin Motor Homes of Red Bay, AL.

First fuel fill-up - $450 gift from Bankston at Texaco, Jordan Lane, Huntsville, AL 5/21/07
First drive to first RV Park Campsite
Headed south on Jordan Lane, Huntsville, AL, 5/21/07

On Monday the Waltons secured reservations at a nearby RV campground next to the US Space and Rocket Museum off I-565. A Bankston service technician helped them negotiate their first move into their first RV camp. James Wallace of Bankston led the caravan in his truck. Dennis Walton followed driving the new bus. Elsa Walton followed driving the Ford pickup truck. All three stopped in the driveway of the campground to determine in which campsite the bus was to be parked.

As this was their first camp spot it was felt that a "pull-through" campsite would be preferable because it would be easier to pull in and pull out of the campsite. The campground director was not present but she instructed Elsa to speak to the campers in site number 23 and ask if they planned to move into site number 6. If not, then the Waltons had permission to go into number 6, a pull-through site.

All three drivers left their engines running as they walked through the campground in search of number 23. A few hundred yards away from their vehicles they heard a crash. They turned and saw the Ford truck facing in the opposite direction about a hundred yards from the position where it was left parked behind the Walton's bus. The truck had crashed into a bus parked in site number 5.

1) Truck was parked behind the Allegro Bus;
2) Dogs drove the truck backwards on the campground road.
3) Truck leaves the road and heads downhill towards Campsite #5 occupied by the Winnebago Vectra.
4-5) Truck drops downhill through a scattering of trees above Campsite #5. 6) Truck brushes by the front fiberglass cap of the Vectra (from left to right.)

"How could this happen?" said Dennis Walton. "It's impossible. You can't take the truck out of Park without stepping on the brake." He asked his wife if she'd left the truck in Reverse.

"No," she replied. "I was going forward. I had no reason to go in reverse. If I had inadvertently put the gear in Reverse the truck would have moved backwards immediately. I was out of the truck for two or three minutes before it began to move. I definitely left it in Park."

Elsa left the truck parked behind the Walton's new bus on the campground road facing east. The truck backed up on the road and around a curve in a west and north-west direction. It then left the road and followed the downward slope of the land making a complete half circle and heading east — backwards. Passing between many trees it came to a stop after sheering off the front end of a 2005 Winnebago Vectra bus. The bus was parked facing north. The east bound rear end of the truck grazed the front end of the bus and tore off the fiberglass cap on the front end. It dented the fuel tank of the generator and brought the rear view mirrors to the ground.

"This is one for the books," said James, the Bankston technician.

"I am dumbfounded," said Dennis.

"Oh what are the poor owners going to say?" asked Elsa.

The fuel tank of the generator is dented. Damage to the bus will be upwards of $38,000.
Damage to Vectra can be seen from the opposite viewpoint after the truck is pulled forward. Damage to Vectra — Rear view mirror on the ground and front fiberglass cap knocked off.

The dogs were hustled into the Walton's new bus and are currently under house arrest. Margot is the alleged perpetrator who jumped on the brake. Rudi is the alleged perpetrator who leaned on the gear shift and attempted to steer the truck backwards. The two worked as partners to pull off the heist.

Bankston people copied the VIN number of the injured Vectra bus and traced the owners who were contacted by cell phone and brought back to the campground. Roy and Wanda Cantrell, recently of Redondo Beach, CA are fulltime RVers who live in their bus. They are in town to visit their grandchildren. They have a grand tour planned for the summer with their oldest grandson. They were devastated that their plans had to be cancelled.

Report filed by Elsa Walton — Huntsville, AL, 5/21/07

Cotons de Tulear aren't talking
Alledged hijackers destroy a Winnebago Vectra
Reactions by witnesses are mixed

Dateline Friday, May 25, 2007, Huntsville, AL.
Elsa and Dennis Walton, owners of the infamous hijacker dogs, Rudi and Margot, currently have their Tiffin Allegro Bus parked next to the Winnebago Vectra that was destroyed by their dogs last Monday. Relations between the two neighbors was strained on Monday and Tuesday. However, insurance adjusters did their magic and now the two couples are able to visit and discuss the event. Roy is a retired Boeing executive and Wanda is a retired nurse.

Adjustors have looked at the damage and insurance has agreed to give the Cantrels a rental bus so that they can continue their trip. It will take months to order parts and repair the Vectra. Estimates for repairs run upwards of $38,000 or more. Rental costs for a bus will add another $10,000. to total costs.

Although Rudi and Margot appeared to be shocked immediately after the crash, they have apparently agreed to keep their story to themselves. When questioned as to how and why the incident occurred, all they would say is "dog-gone."

The only other witness to the accident was a couple who happened to be at home in their RV at the campsite when the accident occurred. They heard the crash and came out to find out what happened. Elsa was clearly distraught and they offered her sympathy and care. After some talk they invited the Waltons to dinner for that evening. They said they wanted the couple to have a good first night in their first RV park in their new bus. Ross and Cindy Peatfield of Boston, MA served the Waltons a delicious steak dinner in their 2000 Winnebago bus. They did much to make the Waltons feel better about the terrible disastor caused by their dogs.

The Bankston people and the insurance people saw humor in the incident. "I'd put those dogs under arrest," said Mr. Bankston, owner of Bankston Motor Homes in Huntsville. Bankston will handle the repairs to the injured Winnebago bus.

Jeff Aber, insurance agent for Dennis Walton said, "I thought it was a big German Shepherd. How could two little dogs cause this much damage?"

"I always leave my dog in the truck with the engine running," said a sympathetic Bankston employee to Elsa.

James, the Bankston technician, was philosophical. "You might have prevented the Vectra owners from being in a terrible crash on the road over the long holiday. Who knows? Look at the bright side. It's only property damage. That truck could have killed someone sitting in the campsite."

Nevertheless, the future of the two dogs is in some doubt. "They currently live under a dark shadow," said Elsa. "They may be under motorhome arrest for the remainder of their lives." However, the owner of the two accused Cotons accepts her share of blame. "I was very nervous when we moved the bus. I wanted to be sure everything went right. The dogs picked up on my frame of mind. When I left them in the car alone they got agitated. I should have turned off the motor and I should not have let myself feel so hurried."

New Honda CRV is silver to match the bus.
"Get down! You are not allowed to drive this bus."
The yellow lever is the parking brake.
When you press it down it releases the brake!

The truck has been removed. It sustained $3,000 in damage. Together with the insurance claim, it was traded in for a 2007 Honda CRV EX-L with GPS and Moonroof. The Waltons plan to use this vehicle as a tow car for their new Allegro bus. The dogs are not allowed to be in the car when the engine is running. And when Margot jumps on the driver's seat of the bus she is chastised by Dennis. "Get down! You are not allowed to drive this bus."

Elsa has nightmares that Margot will jump on the parking brake and the bus will roll down a hill and crash into a ravine. She plans to cover the panel of bus levers to the left of the driver's seat with a plastic box turned upside down. "All RVers tell stories about some accident that occurs on the first day in their new RV. But the damage is always to their own RV. The refrigerator door pops open and orange juice spills out or a high branch clips something off the roof. But they don't destroy someone else's RV. This is rediculous. It's over the top. It's off the charts."

Dennis, a sub-contractor and the owner of a masonry construction company was remarkably sanguine. His business has caused him to survive many disastors. He was calm and philosophical and only reflected that his insurance rates would skyrocket next year. "This story beats them all," he comforts his wife. "You'll have great articles to write for the American Coton Quarterly and for the Tiffin RV Network."

"After this, I don't think Coton owners are going to want to be related to Rudi and Margot — or me!" she replied. "As for the Tiffin RV people? They are going to write us off as a menace to RV parks everywhere."

Report filed by Elsa Walton — Huntsville, AL 5/25/07

"Where's the fuse?" Bankston people help Dennis to set up dump hoses to campsite sewer and reset the fuse. Campsite #6, where the felons are tied to a picnic table. A red Honda Pilot loaner is parked behind the bus. The truck is being appraised at an auto body shop.
The Walton's new 42' Allegro Bus parked at Campsite #6, a "pull-through"
at US Space & Rocket Center RV Park, Huntsville, AL Tuesday, 5/22/07
Unhappy camper. "My insurance rates will skyrocket next year," says Dennis Walton. The dogs feel for him. 5/22/07
Elsa Walton, Space and Rocket RV Park, Huntsville, AL, Friday, May 25, 2007