Modesto convicted auto thief rammed vehicle while trying to escape from investigators

Prosecutors say a Modesto man was driving a stolen car a few months ago, when he rammed another vehicle blocking his escape from investigators before he lost control and crashed into a brick wall.

When Christopher Barrett crashed while trying to evade capture in March, he had only been out of jail for about a month, released from custody on a $100,000 bail bond for a 2018 auto theft charge.

Barrett on Monday pleaded no contest to felony charges stemming from both cases, the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday in a news release.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff sentenced Barrett, 41, to 14 years and eight months in prison. Prosecutors said Barrett must serve at least 60 percent of his sentence before he can become eligible for parole.

Barrett was first arrested on Oct. 4, 2018, after he was pulled over by police. Prosecutors said Barrett was driving a 1997 Acura that was reported stolen, but he claimed he purchased the vehicle from some unknown person. Officers saw the vehicle’s ignition had been “punched,” or damaged to use an object other than a key to turn the ignition.

In February, Barrett was released from jail on the $100,000 bail bond. He then failed to appear in court, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

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Christopher Barrett Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office

On March 27, Stanislaus County Auto Theft Task Force investigators spotted a stolen 2003 Acura parked in the Del Rio area, just north of Modesto. They watched the parked vehicle until they saw Barrett get into it and drive away.

The investigators followed the stolen vehicle and tried to conduct a high-risk felony traffic stop after Barrett stopped in a parking lot along Sisk Road in Modesto, near a Ross Dress For Less store.

The investigators tried to surround him after Barrett turned off the vehicle. But Barrett spotted the investigators and started the vehicle again and drove forward, ramming an occupied vehicle in the parking spot in front of him.

A woman and her 4-year-old son were in the parked vehicle. Prosecutors said the child was not injured, but the woman complained of pain after Barrett rammed her vehicle multiple times.

The investigators have told The Bee that the impact pushed the woman’s vehicle back enough to give Barrett enough space to maneuver around it and leave the parking lot.

Police chase

A pursuit ensued heading north, and Barrett crashed with another vehicle on Sisk and Pelandale Avenue, according to the investigators. There were no injuries reported in that crash.

The chase continued and moved east on Pelandale, before Barrett lost control of the vehicle and crashed into the brick wall near Prescott Road, according to prosecutors.

The investigators found the stolen Acura with nobody inside. Modesto police, the California Highway Patrol and the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department helped search for the suspect in a subdivision north of Pelandale.

A sheriff’s canine found Barrett hiding in a garbage can along a residential street, just northeast of the Prescott and Pelandale intersection. The auto theft investigators said Barrett initially refused to surrender, so the canine was sent in and pulled Barrett from the garbage can.

Prosecutors said Barrett also had an undisclosed amount of methamphetamine when he was taken into custody.

In both his cases, Barrett was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, hit and run causing injury, auto theft and failing to appear in court.

Barrett has a previous residential burglary conviction in Santa Clara County, along with three previous auto theft convictions, according to prosecutors.

Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.