[Update: Jose Lopez Zucilla, a 27 year old man from Fresno was the driver of the 2011 Dodge Nitro used by a pair suspected of drilling holes in gas tanks of vehicles in a residential area in order to siphon gas. Zucilla sustained a broken right leg and facial lacerations during the plunge off a 40 foot cliff. His passenger, a 15 year old male from Coalinga sustained burns to head and shoulder during the incident. The vehicle used for the crime is registered to N. Rodriguez of Hanford.]
On Sunday February 17, 2019 at around 1:53 am, the Coalinga Police Department received a call of suspicious circumstances in the area of Janay Court and San Benito Street. The reporting party advised there was a smell of gas along with portable gas containers near a vehicle.
Coalinga residents have been experiencing a rash of thefts where the suspect(s) drill a hole in the bottom of a vehicle’s gas tank and then steal the fuel. This information has been posted on social media advising citizens to be aware and on the lookout for such suspicious activity.
The concerned citizen saw two subjects under a vehicle who were in the process of stealing gas from a vehicle and realized they had been spotted. The two subjects got into a white 2011 Dodge SUV and fled out of the area heading eastbound on Phelps Avenue. The citizen followed the suspect vehicle awaiting arrival of responding police units. The citizen was on the phone with police dispatch when the Dodge went off the road and disappeared over an embankment and in to the Arroyo Pasajero Creek.
Responding officers arrived 45 seconds to a minute after the SUV had crashed. As the officers arrived on scene the noticed the SUV went off the right side of the roadway through a barbed wire fence and traveled approximately 60-foot through a field and over a 40-foot embankment into the flowing creek down below. Because of the angle and degree of the drop off and unknown level of the creek, police personnel were unable to get to the occupants of the vehicle.
Officers on scene were able to communicate with the driver who was partially pinned in the vehicle but was conscious. The Coalinga Fire Department along with the Fresno County Fire & Rescue were called to extract the subjects from the SUV. Rescue efforts took nearly 3 hours to get both subjects from inside the vehicle into waiting ambulances. The driver’s identity is unconfirmed at this time as he provided first responders with various names. The passenger was identified as a 15-year-old male juvenile and a Coalinga resident. Both occupants sustained severe to major injuries and were transported to the hospital for treatment.
California Highway Patrol was called to investigate the crash as it occurred outside the city of Coalinga. The Coalinga Police Department is investigating the theft and will be conducting follow up interviews with the two occupants as well as filing charges against both of them with the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office.
Sunday morning at approximately 2:30 AM law enforcement was chasing down suspected gas thieves when the suspects lost control of their vehicle on Calaveras and plunged into the creek there. Edging the road at various spots, the creek bed, which is usually dry, was the site of the crash. Recent rains left about one foot of water at the point where the vehicle left the road. An extensive rescue extricated the individuals in the partially submerged vehicle.
Coalinga residents have faced the plague of gas tank robbers who drill holes in gas tanks and then siphon out as much fuel as they can. Bee Hive Auto Repair and Auto Zone along with O’Reilly’s have been troubled by these incidents as well as a church and several residents. It is unknown if these suspected thieves are the same individuals. More information will come when it is available.
(Photo courtesy of Channel 30)