For several months Coalinga has been plagued by gas thieves who drill holes in gas tanks of vehicles during the night to siphon off gasoline. While the thieves may gross a few gallons of gas, their exploits have caused Coalinga residents thousands of dollars’ worth of damage. Most of the vandalized gas tanks have had to be replaced at great expense.
Until this week, the bandits managed to avoid being observed, let alone caught. But this week their dubious luck ran out when an alert resident just happened to be coming home from a late night out, and saw the due of thieves in action.
Many residents are now haling Jacob Kahikina who lives on Janay Court, where the pair struck early last Sunday morning.
“I was actually coming home from the palace
and pulling into my neighborhood and my windows were down a little bit the driver side,” recounts Jacob Kahikina. “I got this odor of gas, so I went down my street, Janay Court, but I circled around the neighborhood instead of just going home.
“I could hear there was a party somewhere in the neighborhood and I saw a bun
ch of cars onto my right and left side and as I was driving. Then I noticed there was a gas can under a white pickup truck. I looked on my left side and there was puddle of gas under three more cars so I went down back on Janay Court.
I called Coalinga PD. I was on the phone with them the whole time.
I sat on the corner by Janay Court watching them. I was right across of t
hem. They kept on looking at me and finally the driver got into the driver seat and started taking off slowly. Not in a hurry.
As he left, I was right behind them and right here at the stop sign he didn’t even attempt to stop. He just kept on going. I followed them. We turned left onto Phelps p
ast the trailer park and past the hospital. As I was driving, I was still on the phone with Coalinga PD.
I was telling him (the dispatcher) where we were located and how fast we were going. I attempted to catch up to them and had my speed at 68 miles per hour just to get the license plate number. I backed off, but I was still following him. When I caught up to him at 68 miles per hour, he blew the stop sign by Calaveras (where the cemetery is) and we passed Calaveras still on Phelps avenue by the time I caught up with him his speed was at 80 miles per hour.
Kahikina told about watching the white suburban careen off the roadway after making several wobbles, indicating that the driver was losing control of the vehicle.
“I was watching the headlights and they just went over. That’s when I knew they were in the creek,” said Kahikina.
He stayed on Phelps Avenue to point out where the vehicle had left the road w
hen CPD officers arrived.
“At first,” Kahikina said, “they were telling a different car to go around a different way to intercept the suburban. But I told them again that it had gone off the edge and into the creek.” Kahikina did not think the officers believed his description, asking him how he knew.
As a bus driver for Coalinga Huron Unified School District, Kahikina takes the road daily, and is very familiar with each twist and turn. He also knows about the creek bed lying far below the roadway.
He showed the officers where the car had fallen, which was easy to do since the hea
d lights were still on in the darkness.
California highway Patrol also responded to the incident. It was quickly determined that with the soft, wet soil along the cliff edge, it was going to be a carefully planned extraction of the two individuals stuck in the car. Fresno County Fire Fighters along with Coalinga Fire Fighters joined the effort.
It was reported that two men, one a juvenile of 15 and the other an adult, were trapped in the vehicle. Preliminary reports stated that one had moderate injuries and the other sustained severe injuries. The adult gave multiple names to law enforcement and at the point of the report, they had not yet ascertained which was accurate.
Using a ladder and ropes, the injured were re- moved from the vehicle and placed on litters and raised to the top with all individuals pulling on the ropes. It took two to three hours to extricate them both. The vehicle remains in the creek bed after tow companies stated that due to conditions, it was not possible or safe to lift it out at this time.
“It may be weeks or even months,” one expert said.
Kahikina is glad he was able to chase the pair of thieves down.
“I feel good about what I did. It’s not like every- one is up at 2 AM. I just happened to be there, and happened to have my car window open just a crack. Enough to smell the gas.
“I hope the good citizens of Coalinga can come together.” Kahikina is anxious to establish a Neighborhood Watch group in his area.
Photo by Grace Witt
Photo by Grace Witt