Looting arrests made in Jackson County wildfire zones
Police have made a string of arrests for looting in areas damaged or threatened by the Almeda fire and South Obenchain fire.
Medford police were on anti-looting patrol Saturday when they saw homes that appeared to have been burglarized along South Pacific Highway in north Phoenix. They located stashes of what appeared to be stolen property in bushes along the Bear Creek Greenway.
Several men with warrants for their arrest returned to the stash sites, Medford police said.
Several people were arrested on suspicion that they helped steal and hide items from burglaries of homes around the 3500 block of South Pacific Highway in north Phoenix, the site of the Medford Estates manufactured home park. Most homes in the park were destroyed by the Almeda fire, while others remain standing.
The suspects allegedly hid stolen property, including video game consoles, in the bushes and in homeless camps along the Greenway.
Jason Paul Gibbs, 34, Cameryn Mykal Geiger, 29, and Manuel Jarome Parks, 43, were arrested on burglary and theft charges related to suspected looting in the Medford Estates area. They were each being held Tuesday in the Jackson County Jail on bail of at least $100,000, according to jail records.
Christopher Headrick, 41, was arrested on charges of third-degree theft and possession of methamphetamine, while Kevin Patrick Smith, 39, was arrested on a parole violation from a past meth possession case during the incident.
On Sept. 9, the day after the Almeda fire broke out, a witness called police to say a man was trying to pry open a safe in a burned house on North Rose Street in Phoenix. The man claimed to live there, but when asked by the witness, he didn’t know the address of the house, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Medford police arrived and found Kyle Delaney Mahan, 28, in possession of several knives and four checks addressed to a resident of the street, according to a probable cause affidavit.
“Mahan told me he was only curious and was poking at the safe to see if it would open,” an officer wrote in the affidavit.
Mahan is in jail on $50,000 bail facing charges of first-degree burglary, second-degree burglary, first-degree criminal trespassing and two counts of first-degree theft in Jackson County Circuit Court.
In Talent, the Crown Market reported a burglary. The investigation is ongoing.
Police are also investigating looting incidents in areas threatened by the South Obenchain fire burning between Butte Falls and Shady Cove in north Jackson County.
On Friday, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to reports of two suspicious men walking around Rogue River Drive and Highway 62 in Shady Cove. Other callers reported a suspicious vehicle with a truck bed full of property.
Eagle Point police later located two men in a truck at Walmart with a truckload of stolen property, police said.
Ricky Lee Davis, 39, faces charges of first-degree burglary, first-degree theft, felon in possession of a firearm and unlawful possession of a firearm. Police said he had a revolver concealed on his hip at the time of his arrest.
Christopher Eugene Stegeman, 32, faces charges of first-degree burglary and first-degree theft, which occurred when Shady Cove was under Level 3 “Go” evacuation from the South Obenchain fire.
The evacuation level has since been reduced to Level 2 “Be Set,” allowing residents to return home, although they should remain wary of the threat posed by the 32,031-acre wildfire.
Davis and Stegeman were each being held Tuesda on $100,000 bail.
On Thursday in Shady Cove, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office deputies were flagged down regarding possible looting.
A witness saw a woman enter a Shady Cove home, then place several backpacks outside, which a man loaded into a car. The two sped away, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Deputies located the vehicle and the backpacks hidden in bushes. The owner of the home said it had been burglarized and ransacked. The owner identified the property in the backpacks as items stolen from his home during the Level 3 “Go” evacuation.
Katrina Lathrop, 35, also known as Katrina Diehl, and Reed Montgomery Tardif, 25, were both charged with first-degree theft and first-degree burglary.
Also in the area threatened by the South Obenchain fire, deputies responded to multiple reports of a suspicious man driving at a high rate of speed on an ATV. They located the ATV and found it had been stolen from an evacuated residence, according to the sheriff’s office.
Paydyn Dineen, 28, was later arrested on charges of aggravated theft and second-degree burglary, the sheriff’s office said.
Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said he’s been assured by the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office that looters in the fire zones will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.
Oregon law allows for longer sentences for people caught looting in disaster areas, he said.
In addition to arresting looting suspects, manning roadblocks for evacuation zones and warning residents to flee approaching fires, police have been responding to a variety of other incidents in the fire zones.
People have been arrested for driving under the influence of intoxicants, driving dangerously around roadblocks and nearly hitting people manning roadblocks, making a threat to shoot people at a roadblock, interfering with firefighters battling a fire, assaulting police and throwing burning cigarette ash from a vehicle, according to the sheriff’s office.
On Monday, Michael Jarrod Bakkela, 41, pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree arson, 15 counts of first-degree criminal mischief and 14 counts of recklessly endangering another person.
He is accused of starting a fire in Phoenix the evening of Sept. 8 that damaged or destroyed property at 15 address in north Phoenix and endangered 14 people in the neighborhoods.
The Almeda fire broke out in Ashland the morning of Sept. 8. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Bakkela has a long history of arrests in Jackson County dating back to 1997 on charges that include meth possession, criminal driving with a suspended or revoked license, third-degree theft, criminal trespassing, interfering with a police officer, attempting to elude a police officer, felon in possession of a firearm and unauthorized use of a vehicle.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.