WOODBRIDGE — San Joaquin County officials are looking for a man who is suspected of stealing from a local fire station.
It was past midnight Tuesday when Woodbridge firefighters got back to Station 72 after helping put out a wildland fire less than 10 miles away. That’s when they made a disturbing discovery.
“Only to come home and to find that we’ve been violated,” said Woodbridge Rural Fire Protection District Chief Stephen Butler. “The station’s been broken into. That sense of security that we once had is now gone.”
Someone had gotten in through a bathroom window. He had time to go in and out of the station at least four times and in a half-hour period, stole personal items belonging to the very firefighters who had just battled a wildland fire for several hours.
“This is the window screen off the bathroom. You can see where he just cut it,” Chief Butler explained. “We did find his knife; he left it behind. The sheriff’s department took it for evidence.”
Lt. Garrett Morrison’s dark blue 2000 Ford F-250 was parked right in front of the station. Surveillance video showed the suspect stealing the pickup truck and taking off.
“As soon as we pull in, I noticed my truck was missing,” Morrison said.
Firefighter Robert Van Reiten Jr. was also a victim.
“As soon as he walked in, his eyes got big. He knew exactly what happened because he saw his laptop and his wallet and keys and stuff missing off the table,” Morrison explained.
By Tuesday afternoon, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office identified the suspect as 22-year-old Luis Avelar, who has still not been found. Investigators believe Avelar is a transient who has been seen throughout the county.
They had also recovered Lt. Morrison’s Ford, which was found in French Camp.
This is the second time someone has broken into Station 72 while firefighters were out on a call. Last February, someone got inside the fire station through an air duct and stole some tools.
“There’s other ways to get money. There’s other ways to feed your habit but you need to get some help out there,” Butler said. “There’s plenty of services out there for you. This isn’t the way to do it. Whether it’s the fire station or someone’s personal house, it’s just not the way to do it.”