An Arroyo Grande man suspected of stealing as many as 25 cars across San Luis Obispo County in July will likely spend about five years in County Jail after changing his plea at a court hearing Monday.
Zachary James Hamlin, 37, pleaded no contest in San Luis Obispo Superior Court to five felony counts of vehicle theft with prior convictions. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dismissed one vehicle theft count, as well as charges of resisting an officer and possession of burglary tools.
Under the terms of the deal, Hamlin will spend five years in San Luis Obispo County Jail and three years on mandatory supervision, a county-level probation assignment implemented following the passage of 2011’s state prison inmate realignment.
He is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 18. His attorney, Carrie Winters, could not immediately be reached for comment.
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Hamlin was arrested amid a “sharp increase” of thefts of vehicles in San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Pismo Beach, a spokesman for the San Luis Obispo Police Department said at the time. Between July 1 and July 24, police in those cities took roughly 40 reports of stolen cars, the majority of which were Honda Civics and Accords dating from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.
Hamlin was identified as a suspect based in part on his criminal history, which includes two prior convictions for felony auto theft, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
On July 25, investigators staking out a stolen car found near Hamlin’s home in the 200 block of Whiteley Street saw Hamlin try to enter the car, but he allegedly fled on foot and was found hiding behind a nearby parked car before he was arrested, police said.
Though Hamlin was originally booked into County Jail on 15 counts of vehicle theft, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office ultimately charged him with the thefts of six vehicles — two Honda Civics, an Accord, a Pontiac Grand Am, an Acura Integra, and a Toyota T-100 pickup — stolen between July 16 and July 25, according to the complaint.
Deputy District Attorney Chase Martin said Monday that investigators believe Hamlin was responsible for 25 car thefts in July. Under the plea agreement, Hamlin agreed to a waiver that allows victims of thefts that he was either not charged with or that were dismissed to seek restitution against Hamlin at a hearing following his sentencing.
Martin said that the DA’s Office has identified all victims tied to Hamlin through various agencies’ police reports and that his office’s Victim Witness Assistance Center is in touch with those people. He said the DA’s Office has received restitution claims from 10 alleged victims so far, and more are expected to be filed.