Fresno County Gas Thieves

April 30, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Thieves made off with 500 gallons of diesel fuel this week from a Fresno County farm.Deputies caught up with the suspects, but the fuel was already gone.

Deputies have arrested one 19-year-old suspect and they are looking for another man who they believe ripped off a fuel tank and trailer from a Valley farmer. The tank was found hours later... Empty.

The large tank was three quarters full when Sheriff's said thieves pulled up, cut the hose and sucked out hundreds of gallons of fuel.

But hiding a big, bulky trailer isn't easy and the suspects were spotted nearby just an hour and a half after the theft was reported. "The first deputy that came on scene he saw the trailer it was attached to a white pick-up. Two subjects next to it immediately ran down a dirt road and the chase was on," said Chris Curtice with the Fresno County Sheriff's Department.

Deputies who pulled up caught one suspect 19-year-old Jorge Valdez. They are still looking for 37-year-old Robert Rodriguez. Both men are from Kerman. Valdez now faces charges of vehicle theft, grand theft and possession of stolen property.

David Tolmachoff, who owns the storage yard where the trailer and fuel were taken, said, "I never thought fuel would be one of the hot stolen items. I always thought like tractors, chemicals, but the simple way to get rid of fuel and copper is quick cash sales so those are the things that are moving."

The longtime almond, and raisin grower said many farmers don't even know they've been robbed because thieves typically steal incremental amounts at a time. "What happens is they'll come and they'll take 100 gallons at a time and farmers will have maybe 1000 gallons and they don't really keep track of it and there's no good way to meter it," said Tolmachoff.

From now on Tolmachoff is planning to keep his fuel under a heavier guard. The theft almost cost him $10,000 dollars.

So now that the trailer has been recovered the loss is close to $2,000 dollars. But it could've been an expensive lesson.

Sheriff's Deputies say if you've seen the outstanding suspect Robert Rodriguez, they'd like to hear from you.

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