General Crime

* Michael Wayne Helms and Larry Eugene Hernandez alleged catalytic converter theives plead not guilty

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Two East Bay men suspected of stealing vehicles and their exhaust-reducing catalytic converters in the North Bay pleaded not guilty this morning in Marin County Superior Court.Michael Wayne Helms, 47, and Larry Eugene Hernandez, 45, both of El Sobrante, are charged with vehicle theft, grand theft, conspiracy, possession of burglary tools and possession of a stolen vehicle in Novato.

They allegedly stole a catalytic converter from a parked Toyota pickup at the Park-n-Ride on Atherton Avenue on April 26.They also are suspected of stealing three Nissan pickup trucks and their catalytic converters in the Rincon Valley area of Santa Rosa on April 20 and a utility work truck in Sonoma Valley the next day.The three Nissan trucks were found without the catalytic converters a mile away from where they were stolen, Sonoma County sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Raasch said.

Helms and Hernandez were arrested in Sonoma Valley on April 21. Sheriff’s deputies found work tools from the utility truck, burglary tools, small electric saws and three catalytic converters in a truck Helms and Hernandez were in, Raasch said.Both men were booked into Sonoma County Jail but posted bail and were released. Sonoma County Auto Task Force detectives later linked the three catalytic converters to the three stolen Nissans, Raasch said.Helms and Hernandez were then placed under surveillance, and Sonoma County sheriff’s property crimes detectives followed them to the Novato Park-n-Ride where Hernandez stole the Toyota’s converter while Helms acted as a lookout, Raasch said. They were arrested and booked into the Marin County jail.

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office has filed 13 felony counts of vehicle theft, grand theft, and possession of a stolen vehicle against the two men. Their arraignment date in Sonoma County Superior Court had not been set as of this afternoon.There has been a recent rash of catalytic converter thefts in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, Raasch said.

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