Mario Uribe was elated when he returned to Cobb Mountain on Saturday after two weeks living as an evacuee to find his family’s home untouched by flames from the Valley fire.
That joy quickly turned to shock, and then rage, when Uribe, 38, discovered the home in the Whispering Pines neighborhood had been ransacked by thieves in the family’s mandatory absence.
Stepping inside, Uribe found the contents of almost every drawer in the house emptied onto beds and the floor. The owner of a landscaping business, Uribe estimates the thieves stole $38,000 in cash he had stashed throughout the house and in an outdoor shed, where numerous tools also were missing.
Uribe reported the burglary to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday. He said the thieves rummaged through cabinets containing files on his business clients, bank and credit card statements and a book containing passwords.
“I would have been happier if my house burned down because I wouldn’t have felt so violated,” a despondent Uribe said Monday while standing in his kitchen.
The Cobb man is among an unknown number of homeowners who were taken advantage after they were forced to flee the Valley fire. Many dropped everything and bolted without stopping to lock doors or windows, making the homes easily accessible to anyone with cruel intentions.
“Pretty pathetic,” Lake County Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Brooks said Monday of looters. “There’s a special place in hell for those people.”
With the last of evacuation orders lifted over the weekend, a full accounting of crimes committed during the fire response is still being tallied. However, at least six people suspected of looting or planning to loot the homes of fire evacuees have been arrested since the fire broke out Sept. 12, according to authorities.
They include Jeremiah Patrick McGinnis, 26, of Cobb, who was arrested on suspicion of taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent, burglary, burglary during a state of emergency and entering a closed disaster area, according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. McGinnis was driving what’s believed to be a stolen vehicle that was painted to look like a patrol vehicle, Sheriff’s officials said. He also was in possession of property believed to have been stolen.
Steven Fredrick Worley, 36, of Whispering Pines; and Royce Sterling Moore, 26, of Lakeport, were arrested on separate occasions on charges that include possession of burglary tools and being in an area closed by an emergency order.
Three other men suspected of looting homes in evacuation zones — David Michael Cesari, 23, of San Francisco; Dyami Gene Connell, 23, of Brisbane; and Michael James Jimenez, 28, of Brisbane — were arrested together and since have been charged with felony conspiracy to commit theft related crimes and misdemeanor charges of possession of burglary tools and unlawfully entering an area closed due to an emergency order, according to Lake County Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff.
Cesari additionally was charged with possession of a concealed, loaded handgun.
The men were arrested in the early morning hours of Sept. 17 as they drove through the Hidden Valley Lake area. The deputy who stopped their vehicle found a full face mask, three pairs of gloves, tools, duct tape, zip ties, numerous key rings with keys, acetone, a lighter, headlamps, flashlights, binoculars, empty garbage bags, a backpack and large knives, the Sheriff’s Office reported.