SALT LAKE CITY — Prosecutors have filed theft charges against five people accused of stealing 60 pounds of dinosaur bones near a Utah quarry during a McLennan Community College educational trip, authorities said Thursday.
The bones were taken after the suspects slipped away from a sanctioned dig last May and pried a dinosaur limb and other fragments from a desert landscape that contains a treasure trove of bones that are millions of years old, authorities said.
The stolen bones were estimated to be worth more than $2,500, but investigators don’t believe the defendants intended to sell them, said Daniel Burton, a spokesman for the Utah attorney general.
“They just happened to find them and took them home inappropriately,” he said. “There are statutes specifically there to protect the land, so you cannot do this kind of thing.”
The bones were seized by investigators and returned to Utah after being taken from an area near Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry, about 230 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Prosecutors filed theft and trespassing counts in the case Wednesday against Philip Bukowski of Crawford, Texas; 24-year-old Paige Bukowski of College Station, Texas; 23-year-old Collin Kubacak of Elm Mott, Texas; 25-year-old Travis York of Waco, Texas; and 36-year-old Crystal Webster of Georgetown, Texas. They have not been arrested.
MCC President Johnette McKown confirmed York and Webster were students, and they are no longer enrolled. The others were sponsors and are no longer associated with the college.
McKown said MCC geology professor Elaine Fagner coordinated the trip, and will continue to do so this summer. Fagner was not with the accused when they allegedly stole the bones.
According to McKown’s understanding, the group was supposed to be on a main dig site.
“They for sure didn’t want others to know what they were doing, if, in fact, they did what they’re accused of doing,” McKown said.
The quarry contains hundreds of fossils from the Jurassic Period that date back as much as 150 million years. Dinosaur species found there have included the long-necked Brachiosaurus, one of the largest animals ever to roam the Earth.
Participants on the educational trip through the Southwest were instructed not to disturb the fossils, and what happened doesn’t reflect the way the trip has been run for nine years, McKown said.
Department of the Interior investigators notified MCC of their investigation in August and visited the campus to interview instructors, students and trip sponsors, according to an MCC statement.
Geology officials were devastated to learn about the theft and have since stepped up training for people on the trip, including instruction on how to report someone who defaces the landscape, McKown said.
She said the five suspects are no longer associated with the institution. The students have finished their studies at the college and employee Philip Bukowski, 53, no longer works there.
The Associated Press sought comment from them, but no attorneys were listed in court records and calls to publicly listed phone numbers were not returned.