Highway Patrol hopes murky photo of fearful suspect will crack auto-theft case

Man in stolen Jeep crashes on I-80, hides in Ophir dog house
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - The California Highway Patrol is looking for a man whose panic-stricken face was photographed by an Ophir resident during what authorities allege was an attempt to elude searchers.

The man in the murky photo had hidden in a dog house on property near Ophir and Stonehouse roads. The property owner had managed to take a photo in the darkness before the worried suspect bolted.

Now Officer Steve Johnson of the Newcastle Highway Patrol office says that the photo could help the public lead investigators to an auto-theft and hit-and-run suspect that has so far eluded them.

The suspect was driving a Jeep stolen two days earlier in Auburn and entered westbound Interstate 80 at the Nevada Street onramp around 4:30 p.m. Dec. 5. But the Jeep struck another vehicle, causing moderate damage to both autos, Johnson said.

“The kid got out of the car and told the other driver ‘Don’t call the police, I don’t have a license,’” Johnson said.

But the driver had already put in a call to law enforcement and the driver of the stolen Jeep turned and ran when he realized what was happening. The driver left behind, with moderate damage to his own Jeep but uninjured, got a good look at a man, Johnson said.  

The next report of the suspect was a sighting in a yard of an Ophir-area property owner. The property owner had heard on the scanner that the “runner” had a shaved head, had a thin build, bad teeth, acne and a tattoo on his right arm.

At some point the suspect was observed hiding in the man’s dog house. At another point, he asked the property owner for a ride home because he said he lived nearby.

And at one point, the property owner took the suspect’s picture.

Johnson said law enforcement was in “hot pursuit” at that time but the suspect disappeared into the fog and darkness.

Anyone with information about the man in the photo or his whereabouts should contact the Highway Patrol at (916) 663-3344.