The three men ran from a garage where thick black smoke rose against the night sky and told the police passing by that everything was under control.
Before they could persuade them, however, two of the cars in the garage burst into flames. And here was the second bit of bad fortune for the two men: Enough of the cars was left to allow police to check them out.
Neither of the vehicles belonged to the men. They were stolen.
Seven men, including the owner of the auto repair shop and his mechanics, were arrested, police said Friday at Dependable Auto Hyundai Specialists repair shop at the 6000 block of Lankershim Boulevard. Three stolen cars were found in the garage, where they were being dismantled for parts, police said.
Owner Uriel Terrazas Giron, 34, was arrested along with his brother, Alfonso Terrazas Giron, 31. Pedro S. Villanueva, 24; Jose G. Rojas, 22; Carlos H. Diaz, 23; Benito F. Valencia, 24, and Eligio L. Rojas, 33, were also arrested in connection with the illegal chop shop.
The fire, police said, started when sparks flew from a torch light and ignited a car’s interior, said Graybill.
“We knew someone was doing it (stripping cars) in the area, but we didn’t know who,” Graybill said. “If it wasn’t for the uniformed officers, we would never be able to catch these guys.”
Police said stolen cars were stored in the building next to Giron’s repair shop and the parts were used to restore his customers’ cars, said Graybill.
“He pays someone a couple hundred dollars to steal cars and he doesn’t have to pay thousands of dollars for the parts,” Graybill said. “Then he charges his customers full price for them. He’s making a lot of money.”
On Friday, other mechanics working in the same mall said they were surprised by the arrests.
“The guys--they were working very hard and I never suspected anything,” said Miguel Campos, who works for an auto repair shop next door to Dependable Auto. “I never saw anything illegal.”