LUCERNE – LAKE COUNTY Three people hanging around the outside of a dark lakeside motel after midnight on a Tuesday are usually enough to raise at least a concern with law enforcement. A K9 officer with the Lake County Sheriff’s Department saw two men and a woman doing just that while driving along Highway 20 in Lucerne, a town along the north west shore of Clear Lake.
According to Steve Brooks of the Sheriff’s Department, the deputy noticed the group standing near a Lexus SUV parked at the Beachcomber Resort Motel building, a small motel with a dock into the lake and not too many rooms. The deputy pulled over to have a chat with the trio. They explained that they were from Redwood Valley visiting a friend there at the resort. The deputy, however, observed that the lights were all out in the building, which is to be expected, since, according to their website, the Beachcomber Resort is currently closed for remodeling.
The deputy got identification from the three people, and ran a records check through central dispatch. It turned out that Stephen Anthony Thomas, 36, Jesse James Rodriguez, 37, and Amber Cheri Dillon, 26, all were suspended from driving. Cheri Dillon is also on felony probation out of Mendocino County, and is subject to search and seizure.
Amber Dillon had been arrested in July of 2013 in Mendocino County on charges of petty theft, identity theft, and giving false identification. And in January of this year she was arrested along with Jesse James Rodriguez by Ukiah Police when they both provided false identification. She was once again accused of identity theft after having cashed stolen checks using a stolen ID at a bank. She had also applied for credit cards in the victim’s name, and acquired gift cards fraudulently. The pair also had warrants out from Sonoma County for fraud and failure to appear in court, according to a Ukiah Police report.
Meanwhile, Stephen Thomas explained that the Lexus was his, but he had only recently purchased it, so it was not yet registered in his name. The deputy asked him if there was anything illegal in the car, and Thomas assured him that there was not. The deputy then informed Thomas that he would have his canine partner give the car and exterior “sniff”, and Thomas said no problem, there was nothing to hide. When the dog did its inspection, it alerted to the front left wheel well. Thomas said it was very possible that someone had been smoking marijuana in the car within the last few days.
With probable cause clearly established, the deputy popped open the hood of the car, and quickly located what was making his dog so excited. A black plastic case was wedged between the battery and the frame right above the wheel well, perhaps hidden there in an effort to mask the smell with engine odors. The case contained two plastic bags with clear crystalline substance, which was recognized and later confirmed to be methamphetamine – 47.6 grams, or 1.68 ounces. Thomas said he didn’t know anything about the meth. This claim no doubt rang hollow, especially if the deputy was aware of Thomas’ recent history. Just a month prior, on June 23, he was arrested in Mendocino County for harvesting and possessing marijuana for sale. In April they also picked him up for selling marijuana, violating probation, and driving with a suspended license.
In November of last year, he was also involved in a violent altercation that resulted in his arrest for assault with a deadly weapon and being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. In that case, he and Samantha Lee Rilla, 35, had shown up at a residence at the Country Club mobile home park in Lucrene, less than half a mile from the site of this incident. They argued with the man there, claiming that the man’s girlfriend was planning to rob Thomas. The man punched Thomas during the argument, and Thomas pulled a handgun and struck the man in the head. He then shot at the man, the bullet passing through his pants leg. They fled the scene, but were later arrested.
Thomas was once again arrested, this time on charges of possession and transportation of a controlled substance, and using a false compartment to conceal narcotics. He was booked at the Hill Road Correctional Facility, and released after posting $35,000 bail. Meanwhile Dillon and Rodriguez, despite their pasts, were not found to be at any fault in this case, and were released at the scene.
Lake County News (2013): Two arrested in connection to early Thursday morning shooting