As America celebrates Independence Day, law enforcement and firefighters can be on high stress level when people’s desire to party includes the lighting of a lot of fireworks, both the legal “safe and sane” variety sold in the week leading up to July 4th in many California communities, and the illegal variety found in other states, who are apparently not so concerned about the potential hazards of just anyone shooting off skyrockets and explosives. Many California communities, Mendocino County included, have taken it a step further and outlawed all amateur pyrotechnics, all the way down to the lowly sparklers and snakes, out of concern for rapidly spreading wildfires, especially in rural areas with lots of dry brush during the summer months.
But they remain on high alert, because many still insist on bringing in all manner of brightly burning explosives to make their celebration complete. But this July 4, the biggest danger came, not from a wayward bottle rocket, but from an intoxicated motorcycle thief.
It was early in the afternoon when a man from Boonville, a small town in the central Anderson Valley of Mendocino County along Highway 128, saw that not only had someone stolen his motorcycle, but the thief was taking off on it. The victim, a 38-year-old man, followed his stolen bike and alerted law enforcement. The man gave chase to the thief, who headed to Highway 253, which leads from Boonville to Highway 101 near Ukiah. The two-lane highway, also known as the Boonville-Ukiah Road, winds through the hills on a 16 mile trek to the Redwood Highway inland. According to the Mendocino Sheriff’s office, as the suspect fled, he crashed the motorcycle into a hillside about halfway down the road.
As the motorcycle crashed, it caught fire, and the flames quickly spread up the dry hillside. The suspect, later identified as 35-year-old Marcelino Enrique Anguiano, took off running into the woods, away from the fire. At 3:25 in the afternoon, deputies responding to the stolen motorcycle chase alerted the Anderson Valley Fire Department, who responded along with Cal Fire to the wildfire. As the deputies, along with Highway Patrol officers, searched for the suspect in the area, the fire crews worked to control the wildfire.
In the end, 50 firefighters were on the scene, and with help from a helicopter and Cal Fire tanker plane, finally extinguished the blaze after 24 acres of privately owned land, on steep hillsides and mixed forest and brush, had burned. Cal Fire estimated the cost of the firefighting to be in excess of $58,000, while the damage to the property has yet to be determined.
Meanwhile, Anguiano continued to try to escape, but at 8:43, as darkness was falling, someone on an adjacent ranch spotted him on their property. They called the Sheriff’s department and responding deputies quickly took Anguiano into custody. He tried to pull a fast one and gave them a false name, but they soon figured out who he was, and that he was already saddled with an outstanding felony warrant. He was also found to be under the influence of a controlled substance, which no doubt contributed to his costly wreck.
Anguiano had been arrested in August of 2012 on charges of grand theft auto, along with resisting arrest and a probation violation. Previous records from 2005 show he was then charged with battery, driving on a suspended license, failure to appear in court from a previous charge, and probation violations.
For this July 4th celebration he was booked into Mendocino County Jail on charges of vehicle theft, recklessly causing a fire, being under the influence of a controlled substance, presenting false identification to an officer, and possession of drugs while armed. Bail was set at $85,000, and he remains in custody at this time.