Anybody who carries a screwdriver to South Coast Plaza is either a reputable, licensed tradesperson, there to fix some ductwork at the Claim Jumper—or up to no good.
Geraldo Segura was the latter.
Around 1 p.m. on May 17, 2006, in the parking lot close to Saks Fifth Avenue, the tool-toting Segura found a 2004 Cadillac Escalade. It was pretty, so the 28-year-old did what car thieves do: He stole it.
Imagine Segura's joy after he broke all the locks, tore out the ignition, started the Cadillac and drove away from one of the most heavily guarded malls in Southern California. How lucky he must have felt that the owner had also left his driver's license, checkbook, watch and credit cards in the vehicle. If only Segura's friends could have seen him driving this expensive black Caddy with 24-inch wheel rims and factory-installed tinted windows.
Well, if they couldn't see the spectacle, Segura could at least tell them about it. As he calmly drove around Orange County in another man's car, he chatted with a friend on the cell phone. Perhaps he laughed that he'd already been convicted of auto theft in Los Angeles—hell, spent 30 days in jail just a year earlier—only to strike again.
A depressed Isaiah Cummings was sitting in the passenger seat of a vehicle heading north on Interstate 405 around 4 p.m. A friend had driven down from Los Angeles to rescue him from South Coast Plaza because three hours earlier, some asshole had stolen his Cadillac Escalade.
And then . . . well, you can't make this stuff up:
Driver: "There's a truck that looks just like yours."
Cummings: "That is my truck!"
After a 911 call, Brian S. Joy and Sean K. Taketa—two California Highway Patrol officers—pulled behind the Escalade. Segura floored it, reaching speeds of more than 115 mph as he weaved through traffic. Officer Joy estimated at trial that "15 or 20" vehicles had been forced to "make evasive maneuvers to avoid being struck."
Eventually, Segura stopped after a near-collision near the Interstate 105 interchange and attempted to flee on foot. The highway-patrol officers wrestled him to the ground and made an arrest at gunpoint.
At the conclusion of the four-day trial in 2006, a jury found him guilty of two felonies: stealing a car and evading police. In December, Superior Court Judge John Conley noted Segura's prior conviction and obvious lack of remorse and sentenced him to spend three years and eight months in state prison.
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But this car thief is persistent. He appealed, claiming he committed nothing more than joyriding, a misdemeanor that doesn't carry prison time. On Aug. 15, a three-justice appellate panel based in Santa Ana considered the claim—and then told Segura they considered it rather lame.
In a unanimous opinion, Justice Richard D. Fybel tersely wrote, "The evidence that Segura intended to permanently deprive Mr. Cummings of his vehicle was overwhelming."
Good news for car owners: Segura will continue to reside at Wasco State Prison through 2008.