FALLON - A 9-foot SpongeBob SquarePants stolen from Burger King last week has been rescued in one piece - with only his body and ego deflated.
A 19-year-old Fallon man brought the missing cartoon character into the Fallon Police Department Saturday night, but it was a crumpled mess of its former self, police said.
Assistant Police Chief Ray Dolan said the man first took the kidnapped SpongeBob, valued at $1,000, to Burger King, hoping to return it with no questions asked. He was told to take the giant, plastic sponge to the police station where it could be booked as evidence.
The teen told officers he was hanging around Burger King the night of Dec. 28 with friends when they decided to take the giant, inflatable SpongeBob off the restaurant's roof.
"He jumped on the roof and threw SpongeBob down. His friends tied (SpongeBob) down in a pickup, drove to a field, and deflated him," Dolan said. "A total of five people were involved and took an active part."
The man told police he kept the flattened SpongeBob in his storage shed at home before deciding to return him to Burger King.
Local Burger King officials asked that charges not be pursued, said Dolan, but a district manager for the restaurant chain wants criminal charges filed.
The case will be forwarded to the Churchill County District Attorney for prosecution, Dolan added.
"It's frustrating," said Police Chief Russ Brooks. "All the time and effort and the officers really put their heart into it. It's nice to get prosecutions."
Dolan said even if the suspect had not brought back the kidnapped SpongeBob, investigators would have solved the theft case.
"The officers were following leads that night and were getting close. Word was getting around, and we were moving in on them," he said. "We were getting ready to deflate their egos."
SpongeBob was discovered missing Wednesday after a drawing was held at Burger King to give him away. When employees went to retrieve the character off the roof, they discovered strings anchoring him had been cut, and SpongeBob was gone.
The Fallon theft follows similar crimes from Burger Kings throughout the country. The stolen SpongeBobs have been selling on e-Bay for up to $1,000. They are used as a promotion for the SpongeBob movie.
Chrystal Cardin, manager of Fallon's Burger King, said last week that the woman who won SpongeBob in the raffle would get her prize if he was recovered.
Contact reporter Marlene Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org.