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Fresno gang members arrested in brazen heist

By MARY SCHLEY

Published: June 29, 2012

POLICE JAILED two suspected Norteño gang members early Tuesday after they broke into the Coach store on Ocean Avenue and then led deputies on a short vehicle chase that ended with they crashed in a North County cauliflower field, Carmel P.D. detective Rachelle Lightfoot told The Pine Cone.

Shortly before 1 a.m. June 26, 21-year-old Gabriel Orneles and 23-year-old Martin Juarez, both reportedly members of the Fresno Bulldogs, pulled up in front of the upscale store at Ocean and San Carlos in a rented Ford Escape SUV, broke a display window with a sledgehammer and entered the store, according to Lightfoot. Using large storage bins they had brought with them, the two men loaded up nearly $12,000 worth of purses, wallets and umbrellas in just a few minutes.

They were gone by the time CPD officers responding to the store’s burglar alarm arrived, but a man who had witnessed the break-in from across the street dialed 911 to report what he had seen. “I don’t know why he waited,” to call, she said, but the information he provided was useful.
“He saw two or three Hispanic males, and he wasn’t sure he could identify them if he saw them again, but he described the car really well,” Lightfoot said.

Carmel P.D. alerted local law-enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for the Ford SUV, and about 20 minutes later, a sheriff’s deputy spotted the car on Highway 1 near Reservation Road and started following it. “He tried to pull them over, and they took off,” Lightfoot said.

Orneles was driving and exited at Molera Road. As he tried to escape, he turned off the headlights, attempting to disappear into the darkness on the road that bisects agricultural fields, according to Lightfoot.

Another deputy came to assist deputy Jason Smith in the chase, and the suspects “ended up crashing in a cauliflower field near Highway 1,” Lightfoot said. “They were probably 50 feet into the field. I don’t know if they lost control or thought they would be able to off-road, but it was only two-wheel drive.”

Juarez jumped out of the SUV and started to run, but after deputies arrested the driver, he gave up, she said. “Neither one of them wanted to talk to us,” she added.

The deputies took the two men to Monterey County Jail for booking on several felony charges, including burglary, conspiracy, gang affiliation and possession of stolen property, as well as misdemeanor penal code and vehicle code violations.

Meanwhile, Lightfoot collected the bins full of Coach merchandise to catalog it and return it to the store. All told, the burglars took 44 items worth $11,800 retail, she said.

“I was able to tell because they still had their tags,” she said. “They had just dashed in and grabbed everything and took off.”

She also suspects Orneles and Juarez could be part of a larger gang-related effort to steal from Coach stores.

“There have been prior Coach thefts around California, and we are working with other agencies and Coach security,” she said.

Since November 2011, the company’s stores in Modesto, San Francisco and Gilroy have been similarly burglarized. The Modesto store was hit three times, San Francisco’s was broken into twice, and Gilroy’s, once. The Carmel store was also burglarized last November.

At least this time, she said, the company did not lose any of its goods. “We were able to recover all the items,” she said. “So Coach was pretty much only out a window.”