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Mortuary driver accused of burglarizing dead man’s San Diego County home

A San Diego County mortuary driver is accused of burglarizing a man’s home hours after the man died, authorities said Tuesday.

Sammy Williecarl Gates, 49, has pleaded not guilty in Superior Court to burglary in the alleged Aug. 31 theft, in which a surveillance camera caught a man wheeling a gurney with an empty body bag into a Spring Valley home, then wheeling it out with the body bag full of stolen goods, according to a sheriff’s sergeant.

Gates, who owns and operates an independent mortuary transport company, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. His defense attorney, Richard Katzman, said the case is still in the early stages and declined further comment.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Karen Bloch said Gates is also a suspect in two similar thefts in July and August in which property went missing from a deceased person’s home.

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Officials released information about the case Tuesday because investigators are asking witnesses, tipsters or families who suspect they may have been victimized to come forward.

The investigation that led to Gates started a few days after deputies went to a home Aug. 31 to check on the 60-year-old resident. They found him dead from natural causes.

The man’s body was taken to a mortuary by an independent transport company; it was not Gates’ company, Mortuary Transportation Services.

Two days later, the dead man’s family called the Sheriff’s Department to report that items were missing, including a gun and a safe, Bloch said. Two days after that, on Sept. 4, they called back with more information: It looked to be a burglary, and there was surveillance video.

According to Bloch, the video caught a man, believed to be Gates, pulling up in a white utility van at about 11 p.m. on Aug. 31 and going into the home. He walked out with two full bags. Then he wheeled in the gurney.

On Sept. 9, detectives searched Gates’ home and found the dead man’s safe and gun, Bloch said. They also found more items believed to be stolen, including two safes, jewelry, watches, war medals and several thousand dollars in collectable coins. The search also turned up 16 firearms, war relics dating from the early 1900s.

Bloch said further investigation has uncovered five more alleged crimes, including two involving thefts from the homes of dead people. Bloch declined to say whether Gates had been hired as a driver to transport the body from the home in either case. Gates has not been charged in connection with any of those suspected thefts.

The Sheriff’s Department asked anyone with information or potential victims to contact Detective Dalton at (619) 660-7037. Anonymous tips can be left by calling Crime Stoppers at (800) 580-8477 or visiting sdcrimestoppers.org.

Figueroa writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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