Cellphone links suspect to auto theft, Atwater police say

Jose Maldonado, 25, of Atwater. Photo courtesy of the Atwater Police Department.
Jose Maldonado, 25, of Atwater. Photo courtesy of the Atwater Police Department.

Atwater police say a suspect has been arrested after two vehicles were reported stolen Wednesday.

Authorities arrested 25-year-old Jose Maldonado of Atwater after an officer observed him in the area of two stolen vehicles.

Police say a black Honda Civic was reported stolen from the 1900 block of Atwater Boulevard around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Officer Ken Lee located the stolen Honda behind an apartment complex in the 2200 block of Olive Avenue and observed a man later identified as Maldonado walking in the area of the stolen vehicle, according to a news release.

Authorities say a blue Honda was also reported stolen from Walmart around 12 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

The theft was caught on video and police say a person resembling Maldonado was observed stealing the car from the store’s parking lot.

Later that day Lee observed Maldonado on foot in the area of the stolen blue Honda in the 2000 block of Olive Avenue, according to a news release. Police say Maldonado was detained based on his resemblance to the suspect in the video of the car theft.

Maldonado was found to be in possession of a shaved key, which police say is commonly used to steal cars. Authorities say a cellphone left behind in one of the stolen vehicles also linked Maldonado to the crime.

Maldonado was booked into the Merced County Jail on suspicion of auto theft and authorities are working to determine if he’s connected to any other vehicle thefts in the Atwater/Winton area, according to the news release.

Police say Officer Lee is a prior recipient of the California Highway Patrol 10851 Master Award and has been responsible for the recovery of 24 stolen vehicles this year.