Crime - Sacto 911

4 arrested on looting charges at Lake County fire site

From left, Michael James Jimenez, Dyami Gene Connell, David Michael Cesari
From left, Michael James Jimenez, Dyami Gene Connell, David Michael Cesari

As firefighters continued to gain containment on weakening wildfires in Lake, Calaveras and Amador counties, price gouging and looting were reported in burn areas.

Three men from the Bay Area were arrested after entering the Valley fire zone, allegedly with the intent to loot homes. A deputy patrolling the area around Hidden Valley Lake at 2:55 a.m. Thursday stopped a pickup with the men inside.

The deputy asked why they were in the area but their explanation did not seem truthful. The deputy, who surmised they didn’t know their way around Lake County, began a search when he smelled marijuana coming from the pickup.

One passenger, David Michael Cesari, 23, of San Francisco, had an ammunition magazine in his front jacket pocket and a handgun tucked in at his waistline at the small of his back, deputies said. The deputy’s search of the truck turned up a face mask, three pairs of gloves, tools, duct tape, zip ties, key rings with keys, headlamps, flashlights, binoculars, empty bags and large knives.

The deputy noticed the wheel wells of the truck were caked with mud, indicating that the trio, dressed in black or camouflage print clothes, might have gone overland to circumvent road closures set up to protect homes in the fire zone.

A similar truck with a camper shell, suspected of being driven by burglars, had been spotted the night before in the community of Cobb. Cesari was arrested on gun, burglary and entering a closed disaster area charges. His friends, Dyami Gene Connell, 23, and Michael James Jimenez, 28, both of Brisbane, were arrested on suspicion of entering a closed disaster area and conspiracy to commit a crime.

The Sheriff’s Office also reported that Jeremiah Patrick McGinnis, 25, of Cobb, was arrested about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, after he allegedly was found in the fire area in possession of burglary tools. He is accused of vehicle theft, second-degree burglary and burglary during a state of emergency.

Meanwhile, state Attorney General Kamala Harris warned of price gouging in the disaster area of Lake County. Hotels have reportedly been raising their prices during the wildfires.

California’s price gouging statute becomes effective once the governor declares a state of emergency, which occurred for both the Butte and Valley fires. The law prohibits charging a price that is 10 percent more than the price of the item before an emergency declaration.

The law applies to food, medical supplies, building materials and motel stays.

Bill Lindelof: 916-321-1079, @Lindelofnews

Related stories from Sacramento Bee