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DeGuara pleads guilty, is free until sentencing

SLAYTON -- A former Avoca man facing charges in three separate cases entered into a plea agreement Friday in Murray County District court, and is now out of jail until sentencing.

Joshua Michael DeGuara, now living in Brewster, pleaded guilty Friday to one count of receiving stolen property and one count of disorderly conduct. A second receiving stolen property charge was dismissed, as was a theft charge and one count of domestic assault.

DeGuara was charged this fall with one count of receiving stolen property after several items belonging to the Avoca Fire Department were discovered in his home during an unrelated search warrant execution.

The department inventoried their equipment, and found more items missing. In November, DeGuara's roommate had a car repossessed, and in the trunk was a complete set of turnout gear that had been present during the inventory. From that, a second charge of receiving stolen property was added.

DeGuara admitted Friday that he knew he should have turned in the gear after being voted off the department while on probationary status.

"I got scared because I knew I should have given it back," DeGuara said in court. "I didn't know how to give it back."

Under questioning by Murray County Attorney Paul Malone, DeGuara stated he had his roommate hide the equipment in the vehicle so law enforcement would not find it. He claimed to have worn the turnout gear -- a helmet, coat, pants, gloves, a hood and boots -- home after a late-night fire because he was cold and wet.

"Do you have any more of their equipment?" Malone asked.

"Not that I am aware of," DeGuara replied. "Just what was in the bag."

DeGuara also pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge stemming from a domestic altercation that took place in late December and landed DeGuara in jail.

DeGuara described the situation with his wife as a verbal dispute, but admitted under questioning the altercation had become physical on both sides.

"She kicked me in the groin and threw a flashlight at me," he claimed, then admitted he had responded by getting physical with his wife. The complaint states he bit her on the thigh.

A misdemeanor theft charge stemming from DeGuara's theft of a propane tank from a neighbor was dismissed with the understanding DeGuara would be responsible for restitution.

While the maximum sentence for the receiving stolen property charge is five years incarceration, DeGuara is lacking the criminal history points to do more than a year in jail, according to Malone.

Avoca Fire and Rescue spokesman Tom Nelson was surprised to hear DeGuara's explanation of why the turnout gear was in his possession.

"At the fire he attended, he wasn't wearing the gear that was found in that car; he accidentally wore mine," Nelson explained. "The gear found in that car in November was in the hall in October. We did the inventory Oct. 4, after being told a deputy had found some our equipment in his house."

The department had hoped that if the case went to trial, more information would come out and some of the stolen equipment would be recovered. Nelson said the department is also disappointed that the county attorney failed to contact the department before the plea hearing took place.

"We're glad DeGuara pleaded guilty to one charge, but after contacting the county attorney several times and asking that this go to trial, it's bothersome to know he took easy way out and dropped a second felony charge under a plea agreement," Nelson stated. "The deputies involved in the investigation did an amazing job and worked hard on this. It is a damned shame the county attorney did what he did."

Equipment still missing, Nelson said, includes an expensive SCBA mask, a pulse oxymeter, various pipe and hose fittings and small tools such as spanners, a hand axe and a halligan tool used to gain forced entry. Last week, he added, a pike pole belonging to the department was found in the backyard of the home DeGuara rented before being evicted.

"This whole situation has put a financial hardship on the department," Nelson said. "A lot of equipment that is missing will never be replaced due to the cost."

Sentencing is scheduled for May 11 in Murray County District Court.