Thief Takes Truck, Loses His Pants

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When a man stopped into Circle K north, leaving the keys inside his tan Chevy truck, a car thief jumped inside and drove off with his vehicle Tuesday night.

Every law enforcement agency in the area assisted in the ultimate recovery of the truck and the suspects.

When the call went out on the radio, Payson Police Sgt. Todd Bramlett, off-duty at the time, saw the truck pull out of Circle K south where the thief had picked up his girlfriend. Bramlett got on his radio and told officers the two were heading southbound out of town at 70 mph.

Dispatchers alerted the Gila County Sheriff's Office and Department of Public Safety about the stolen truck. Payson Police officers were inundated with other calls, but Officer Chris Harold and Sgt. Donny Garvin were able to head down the hill to assist.

Sheriff's Sgt. Tim Scott and Deputy Terry Neff happened to be in Rye at the time.

"They saw the truck go by and followed it," Police Lt. Don Engler said.

Garvin and Harold caught up to the deputies and tried to stop the truck.

"They attempted to stop them at the Barnhardt Trail," Engler said. "It looked like they were going to stop, but then they sped up and then slowed down to about 10 mph and the two occupants jumped out of the moving vehicle and let it run off the road," Engler said.

The passenger, Justine A. Huerta, 22, of Tucson, broke her ankle jumping out of the truck and police apprehended her.

The driver, 21-year-old Ramon A. Zavala-Garcia of Tucson, eluded officers. They found Garcia's pants, which had come off him while he was trying to crawl over a barbed-wire fence.

"His wallet with his ID was in his pants," Engler said. "So, they knew who they were looking for."

Huerta was taken to Payson Regional Medical Center and as of Thursday morning, was still in the hospital according to Gila County Jail staff.

The 2000 extended cab Chevy truck has some damage to the passenger door, but the owner was able to retrieve the truck.

Engler said Garcia and Huerta came to Payson with several other people to visit family in the Mesa del Caballo area.

The two other vehicles occupied by acquaintances of the couple, a white Jeep SUV and a white truck, also were stopped by police and DPS officers who had arrived on the scene. The vehicles had been spotted at Circle K north and south, but officers did not know if they were participants in the theft.

"Officers questioned the occupants," Engler said. "It was determined that they weren't involved with the theft. They were not detained, but we will do some additional investigation."

By 12:30 a.m., officers had not found Garcia and called off the search.

At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the sheriff's office got a call from a Forest Service law enforcement officer.

"A (Willow Fire) work crew out south of the Barnhardt Trailhead had come across an individual sleeping in one of their vehicles who had just left the area," GCSO Deputy John France said. "The guy fit the description of the stolen vehicle suspect."

Several deputies headed to where Garcia was last seen.

"I spotted him walking along the edge of the highway," France said. "He was wearing plaid boxer shorts and had stolen a firefighter's bright yellow Nomex shirt, which was tied around his waist -- he wasn't hard to spot."

France arrested the pantless suspect without incident.

"He evidently has a history of car thefts and operating chop shops," France said. "I arrested him on a warrant for failing to appear in a previous vehicle theft charge out of Tucson."

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