A frantic search for a missing University of Minnesota telescope ended at a Texas truck wash on Wednesday night, but the trucker who disappeared with it for several days has offered no explanation to his now-former employer.
The driver was found when Copeland Trucking co-owner Tim Hoag sent his son down to Dallas, Texas on Tuesday after the driver did not show up at a drop-off location Monday morning. Hoag said he first called local police and the Texas State Patrol, but they declined to investigate.
Hoag’s son, Charlie Hoag, found the truck, with the driver sleeping inside, at a truck stop on Tuesday, Hoag said. The truck’s rims were missing, and company credit card records indicated the driver had charged $1,000 worth of fuel at the same truck stop over the weekend, Hoag said.
Unfortunately, the six-thousand-pound telescope was nowhere to be found. Hoag said his son pleaded with the police to arrest the driver, but the police declined.
Hoag said the driver’s refusal to talk left the company with more questions than answers.
"We can’t do anything with the driver," Hoag said. "We can’t make him talk, right? No matter how mad we are, you know, we can’t like break a knee cap or water board the guy. We would’ve liked to."
The driver led them to a nearby Days Inn, where he told them he left the trailer with the telescope the day before, but the trailer was not there, Hoag said. At that point, Hoag said, the driver stopped talking and has not been seen since.
After another night of searching, Hoag’s son finally located the trailer at a nearby truck wash, Hoag said. The cargo seal was not broken, and scientists who inspected the telescope Thursday morning said it did not appear to be damaged, said Danny Ball, site manager for the NASA-run Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, where the telescope was originally scheduled to be delivered.
"It appeared when we opened up the trailer that everything was exactly as it was when it left Minnesota," Ball said. "It appears as though it just took a detour on its way down here."