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Avoca man charged in stolen property case

AVOCA -- A man once convicted of impersonating a fireman in California is accused of receiving stolen property that belonged to the Avoca Fire and Rescue Department. The felony-level charge, filed Monday in Murray County District Court, comes with a maximum penalty of five years incarceration and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Josh Michael DeGuara, 31, of Avoca, was convicted of impersonating a fireman in Sacramento County, Calif., in 1996. He moved to Minnesota several years ago.

While a search warrant was being executed at DeGuara's home in September in regard to a separate investigation, a deputy noticed several lengths of fire hose and nozzles. At the time, DeGuara told the deputy he had brought them with him from California. The nozzles, he said, were discarded by a fire department he had belonged to there.

In October, Avoca Fire and Rescue Department (AFRD) Chief Robert Wahl reported that between Oct. 2-5, gas was stolen from the department's grass rig, tanker and a gas can that is kept on the tanker. Earlier that day, a fire department member had taken the tanker for non-emergency use, but ran out of gas. He then discovered the gas can was also empty.

The chief, captain and training officer began to inventory their equipment on the deputy's advice, and discovered several nozzles, two SCBA masks with heads up display and several pieces of medical equipment were missing. The items had been kept on several of the department's vehicles.

"We are understaffed, lightly equipped and have a very small budget," Wahl said. "Replacing those expensive items would be impossible. While they might not seem that important, every piece of gear is a link in the chain that allows us to do our job."

Shortly after moving to Avoca, DeGuara became a probationary member of the department. According to Wahl, DeGuara claimed to be a certified firefighter in California, as well as an EMT and water rescue specialist.

"We need firefighters and he asked if he could be one," Wahl stated Monday. "We gave him a shot, but then realized he was not trustworthy and voted him off the department."

In the four months DeGuara was a probationary member, he did not supply the documentation for the certifications he claimed to have, Wahl said. Shortly after being voted off the Avoca department and turning over his pager and key, he reportedly applied to become a member of the Slayton Fire Department, but was denied.

During his tenure as a probationary firefighter, DeGuara allegedly lied to the city clerk to obtain a key to the fire department buildings. He then reported he had lost that key, and had another issued to him.

During the investigation, the complaint states, the deputy spoke to a man who had provided an estimate and repairs to the department's rescue rig after it was rear-ended. The man said he had the rig at his shop, and came outside one day to find DeGuara in the vehicle.

When asked what he was doing, DeGuara allegedly said he was on the department and was bringing the vehicle back to the hall. The man said he told DeGuara he was not done with the rig and would contact the city when he was finished.

During a consent search of DeGuara's home, the deputy recovered two nozzles, a SCBA mask with heads up display, a retired mask and two rolls of hose. The value of one nozzle and the SCBA mask exceeds $1,000. The hose, he told his wife, had been given to him by the chief so he could patch it for the department.

"We don't patch damaged fire hoses," Wahl explained. "We cut them up and throw them away so no one tries to use them."

He also located an electric fuel pump and numerous gas cans.

The deputy interviewed DeGuara at the law enforcement center in Slayton. DeGuara denied committing any thefts or burglaries. The complaint states his story of how he obtained a key was different than that of the chief.

He told the deputy the two masks were his, used for blowing insulation. The deputy noted there was not trace of insulation on the masks, only the distinct smoke odor of fire equipment. The serial number from the heads up display mask was later matched to the serial number of one stolen from AFRD.

During this conversation, DeGuara claimed the nozzle recovered was his from when he worked construction in 2003. The nozzle was verified to have been manufactured in 2005 by the salesman who sold it to the fire department.

Later, he said his children may have taken the nozzle off the fire truck when he had it at home to wash it for a parade.

According to Wahl, the department's missing nozzle of that type had been removed from an attack line.

"We sometimes have to remove them with wrenches," he added. "There is no way a kid could just grab it and take it."

In September, DeGuara had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor theft of a cell phone cover with a fire department logo. He told the judge he had not stolen the cover, but was pleading guilty so the accompanying charges would be dropped against his wife. His child, he said, had stolen the cell phone cover. The complaint regarding that theft stated the packaging that had contained the cover had been discarded on a tall shelf, out of the reach of a small child.

During the interview, DeGuara denied having been convicted of impersonating a fire fighter, although California documents state otherwise.

Wahl is upset the thefts themselves were not charged to DeGuara, but glad to see he faces a felony charge. The truck that ran out of gas was luckily not on the way to a fire, he stated, which could also have caused injury or death. The missing pieces of equipment, Wahl added, could have cost the life of either a victim or a fire fighter.

"We voluntarily put our own lives on the line to protect our community, and we don't appreciate anyone increasing that risk," Wahl said. "We would really like to see (DeGuara) prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for this."

DeGuara also has convictions in California for drug possession, grand theft and burglary.