A prisoner participating in California’s controversial inmate-firefighter program stole a fire engine while on the job for a July 4 fireworks-related vegetation fire and crashed, causing thousands of dollars in damage.
The 31-year-old inmate, whose identity was not disclosed other than he is from Orange County, had been serving his sentence since 2015. The state’s program trains prisoners and deploys them to help fight wildfires in exchange for time off their sentence as well as $2 to $5 in pay per day.
On Sunday around 10.50pm, the Cal Fire Amador-El Dorado Unit responded to a vegetation fire in Shingle Springs related to illegal fireworks, The Sacramento Bee reported. The inmate who was part of the crew went behind the wheel of the firetruck and accelerated around 12.40am on Monday.
After fleeing the fire scene, the inmate seemed to lose control of the vehicle and drove through a fence and crashed into a Rack-It Truck Racks store. The prisoner also hit a parked car belonging to the store, a tree and another fence, then cleared a curb and slammed into a ditch, according to California Highway Patrol Sgt Dave Varao.
‘It’s half a block of destruction from him trying to steer this big truck, which he probably doesn’t know how to drive very well, ricocheting off fences and trees,’ Varao said of the ‘escape attempt’.
‘Significant damage was done to the engine as well as private and public property.’
Surveillance footage obtained by KCRA showed the inmate driving the firetruck through a parking lot with the emergency lights on and charging through multiple obstacles on the ground.
After totaling the truck, the inmate ran back to the Rack-It Trucks Racks site and attempted to carjack an employing leaving the business. The prisoner and the worker ‘fought’ briefly before the employee broke free and locked himself in the store.
The inmate was arrested by prison guards and El Dorado County sheriffs about 30 minutes after he took off. The employee suffered ‘very minor injuries’ and was not hospitalized.
California started the inmate-firefighter program in 1915. It has been praised for saving as much as $100million in taxpayer money per year, but also criticized for paying little for dangerous work. More than 900 inmates participate across 62 crews, according to the Los Angeles Times. Three prisoners have died while fighting blazes since 2017, Vox reported.
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