Firefighter assaulted during firehouse robbery

By C.J. Barbre

West Lindsay, out where there is not much but olive groves and bean fields, has suffered a crime wave.

The latest and perhaps most bizarre was the robbery of the CDF station at 19603 Avenue 228. Even more bizarre was one of the thieves attacked the volunteer firefighter who caught them in the act, with a shovel.

On Thursday, Oct. 7, at approximately 8 p.m., the Tulare County Fire Department Lindsay Station was dispatched to a debris fire at Avenue 245 and Black Drive by the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. According to a report from the CDF, suspicious that the fire was a ploy to leave the station unattended, paid volunteer Ken Hilton returned to cover the station and found that it was being robbed by two individuals. Hilton was assaulted by one of the perpetrators and hit multiple times with a shovel.

Hilton was taken to Sierra View District Hospital for medical treatment. The suspects managed to flee the scene with items from the station such as lawn mowing equipment.

Battalion Chief Phil Brown and Prevention Officer Mike Weger began an investigation. Detectives from the Tulare County Sheriff's Department also responded to the scene. The suspects were identified as 19-year-old Juan Pablo Nunez and a male juvenile and were picked up. Nunez was booked into the Tulare County Jail on attempted murder of a firefighter, burglary and other miscellaneous charges according to the report from the CDF. The Sheriff's Department press release listed the charge as assaulting a firefighter. The juvenile was booked into the Tulare County Juvenile Detention Facility on charges of burglary and possession of stolen property. The property was recovered.

The person who called the fire department called the Gazette<$> with the back story. They asked to not be identified. They said at 11 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 4, there was a car chase westbound on Avenue 245 and the vehicle was unable to negotiate the turn at Black Drive which is just a zig in the road after it crosses over the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. Instead the vehicle flew into what had been an olive grove, but the trees had been pushed over and stacked for burning. The car went about a hundred feet and came to a stop. Apparently the two suspects took "leg bail." The Sheriff's Department had the car towed.

Our source only said that one suspect was a parolee. He said he went out the next day and found a 12-inch knife between the car tracks about 20 feet from the pavement. He notified the Sheriff's Department.

Then, on Thursday night, Oct. 7., our source said he was outside when he heard a loud "fwoomp" like the sound of a tire exploding. Someone had lit the stack of trees closest to where the vehicle had stopped. Perhaps it was just a diversion to rob the station, or perhaps there was a twofold purpose, to destroy any evidence that had been tossed from the car. He said there was a strong smell of gasoline, and he notified the fire department.

He said after they arrived, they got a panicky message over the radio to get back to the station because someone was hurt.

The next day our source said four detectives, a fire investigator and others "were out here combing every piece of this ground."

It would seem to qualify as a crime wave when several crimes have occurred in the sparsely populated area. In last week's Crime Log, a resident on Avenue 224 between Highway 65 and Road 196 had his home robbed on two consecutive days. The previous week, vandals tried to burn down the historic water tower also on Avenue 224.

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