Man accused of stealing police car | The Merced Sun-Star The Merced Sun-Star

A homeless man allegedly stole a police car while under the influence of drugs, according to a law enforcement official.

Cmdr. Jason Hedden said officer Jairo Acosta was outside of his police vehicle responding to a report of transients inside a vacant building on the 900 block of F Street Sunday at 7:11 p.m. A homeless man hopped into Acosta’s squad car, which was left running, Hedden said.

The man, later identified as Gabriel Aaron Chavez, 28, of Los Banos, slowly drove the police car along the 500 block of West I Street, near the police station. Hedden said officers pursued the squad car at a slow rate of speed and were eventually able to pull Chavez over on the 400 block of West J Street. The police vehicle did not sustain any damage.

Chavez was arrested on suspicion of evading police, car theft, possession of stolen property and being under the influence of drugs. He is being held at the John Latoracca Correctional Facility pending $75,450 bail.

Hedden said officers typically carry two sets of car keys, one on their police belts and another that many times stays in the ignition. The practice of keeping the police vehicle running at all times is common if officers are making a “quick stop.” He said keeping computer equipment inside the vehicle operating at all times is another reason police may leave a key in the ignition. However, Hedden added, the practice may be reevaluated.

Hedden said Acosta has not yet been formally interviewed about the incident. An internal investigation is expected, but Acosta does not face disciplinary action at this time, according to Hedden.

“There were no damages or losses to the vehicle other than a little bit of fuel and our pride,” Hedden said.

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