NORTH FORK – Several residents of the North Fork area had a bit more excitement than they bargained for yesterday afternoon when they found a wanted fugitive hiding under one of their houses.
Richard Keg, who lives just off Road 221, says he learned about the wanted man from sheriff’s deputies who were searching the area when he returned home from his son’s kindergarten graduation.
The suspect, identified as Cristopher Baker, 26, of Ahwahnee, was later identified as the person involved in the theft of gas from Miller’s Landing, used to fuel a Chevy S-10 pickup he had stolen from Table Mountain Casino a few days earlier. Baker was spotted by Lawrence Chepo at Bass Fork Minit Market yesterday afternoon, and Chepo thought he looked suspicious.
When Chepo went into the market, Baker allegedly stole the keys out of his car, after which a chase ensued. Chepo caught up with Baker at the intersection of Roads 221 and 223, and the two began fighting. Baker then took off on foot, running north on 221 and into the rural neighborhood on Quail Flats Road where he made himself scarce.
Keg says he had just returned home when he found that several deputies were combing the area along his road looking for Baker, and he and his neighbor Dave Baggett immediately joined in the search.
“We started walking the property line and the neighbor’s property, checking out some old camper shells and the creek bed; anyplace someone could hide,” says Keg. Meanwhile, Sgt. Larry Rich was checking out an abandoned house next door.
About 40 minutes later, he says, the deputies told him they were going to leave the property, hoping that if the suspect saw them go, he would feel safe to come out. That’s when Keg and his neighbor Dave returned to his house to check on his roommate.
“Gale was home alone and unarmed, because I had my gun on me, so we decided to check around the house,” says Keg, who describes how he went around one side and Dave, who was armed with Keg’s 12-gauge shotgun, went around the other side to have a look in the crawl space.
“But he never pops up on the other side of the house,” says Keg. “So after about 30 seconds, I jog up to the front, and Dave’s got the gun aimed and is waving at me to come over quick, and sure enough, this idiot is asleep under my house, in the crawl space on a pillow.”
At this point, Keg says he tells Dave to keep the gun on the guy while he runs into the house and grabs the landline phone. He dials 911 and tells them he’s got their guy at gunpoint.
“And yes, I was multitasking,” says Keg. “Home phone against my shoulder talking to 911, my 40-cal in my right hand, and my cell phone taking pictures in my left hand.”
While this is going on, Keg pauses in his picture taking and uses his cell phone to call his neighbors Rick and Susie Chard. He has left his son with them while he and Dave search for the suspect.
“Hey, the guy’s under the house!” Keg reports to Susie. “Tell Rick!”
Rick is a Viet Nam vet, and wastes no time strapping on his .45, responding to the scene and ordering the guy out from under the house. That is, after waking him up.
By now Mr. Baker has three guns pointed at him and sirens are wailing as deputies come racing up the driveway, only moments away when the 911 call came in from Keg.
Deputies Rich and Chetwood, along with Forest Service Law Enforcement, arrive to take the trespasser into custody, and slap the cuffs on Mr. Baker, adding another arrest to the 10 he already has under his belt since August of 2010.
Some of his previous charges include possession of amphetamines, possession of marijuana, possession of burglary tools, receiving stolen property, carrying a concealed knife, burglary, resisting arrest, and being under the influence of a controlled substance.
Baker told Deputies that he was high on methamphetamine and decided to steal the keys at Bass Fork. When asked if he knew the pickup he was driving was stolen, he said yes, because he had stolen it two days before. He said his friend left him at the Table Mountain Casino and he needed a ride home, so he found a pickup with the keys in it and made off with it.
Baker also admitted to driving the pickup when he stole gasoline from Miller’s Landing at Bass Lake on June 2, telling deputies he needed gas for the stolen pickup.
Baker was booked into the Madera County Department of Corrections, this time for unlawful entry and trespassing, plus vehicle theft, receiving stolen property and petty theft. He is being held on a $25,000 bond.
So where did the pillow come from? Actually it was more of an old cushion, says Keg.
“It was already under there,” he says. “We had a water leak. I was trying to fix it and didn’t want to have to sit in the mud.”
Keg says his dad is ribbing him about going from being a computer geek to a vigilante, but this one was just too close to home.
“They asked me if I wanted to press charges and I said, hell yes! This guy’s has been arrested over and over and over again, and this time he had a knife and a stun gun in his pocket. This is just too close to where my kid lives.”