More than 1,000 gallons of stolen cooking oil was discovered in a rental truck after two New York men led police on a lengthy chase Thursday.
The pursuit began after the men were caught trying to steal frying oil from a pizza shop in Old Saybrook, according to Connecticut State Police.
Authorities said 26-year-old Prince Gonzalez of Yonkers, New York and 21-year-old Leuri DeLeon Blanco of Bronx, New York were arrested not long after ditching and fleeing the stolen Home Depot truck on Interstate 95 South in Westport.
NBC Connecticut recorded traffic cameras as police tried to stop the truck for more than 50 miles. The truck got on the highway in Westbrook before ultimately stopping in Westport.
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The owner of Old Saybrook Pizza Palace and Restaurant was prepping pizzas around 9:30 a.m. Thursday when he says, “I noticed a little, like Home Depot box truck outside ... I kind of like looked at the guy and said, you know, ‘Hey, what's up? What do you want?’ and he just looked at me,” said Stavros Gianitsos.
That’s when another guy told Gianitsos they were there to take his old frying oil, he said.
But when the owner told them a company recently pumped his oil the other day, the suspicious men sped off after stopping at a restaurant next door.
Gianitsos called police.
“It's crazy because like I said, it's been happening a lot here in this area, because you know, the restaurants are pretty busy. And I guess oils, you know, I don't know what to do with it, clean it and resell it. But yeah, it's been happening a lot lately,” Gianitsos said.
“I saw the truck and I’m like, 'Hey you’re leaking something, you’re smoking and he pulled around this corner and Saybrook and State cops came,” said Stanley White of Old Saybrook.
Talking to community members like White, it appears the truck hit a car near Water’s Edge in Westbrook. Police said a woman was taken to the hospital because of the hit-and-run crash and she is currently in stable condition at the hospital.
“I heard a crash and a few minutes later, I hear all the ambulances and sirens and stuff,” said Deborah Trout-Kolb, the owner of Tulips, a flower business right down the road.
Right after, the truck continued to speed around the corner where White was working.
“Early in the morning. I haven’t even had coffee yet. It was exciting though,” White said.
We spotted what looked like sand covering oil leaks all over the road heading onto Interstate 95 South in Westbrook. That’s where our traffic cameras captured a lot Thursday morning.
State police troopers said they deployed stop sticks on the highway and followed the truck, too.
At one point, video shows a piece of the truck come off and hit another vehicle.
Eventually, I-95 South was blocked temporarily and the driver and passenger bailed into the woods near a wildlife preserve area in Westport. Police said the men were apprehended soon after.
They say they had rented the truck in Hawthorne, New York and it was three days late to be returned.
The Pizza Palace owner said his frying oil has been stolen before and it’s been happening a lot locally. It can be used to make biodiesel, among other things.
State Police said Gonzalez faces charges for engaging in pursuit, reckless driving and endangerment, two counts of criminal trespass, two counts of attempted larceny, interfering, possession of stolen property, and more.
Blanco faces charges including two counts of criminal trespass, two counts of attempted larceny, interfering, possession of stolen property valued at over $4,000, and more.
Police said they have additional charges related to evading the crash in Westbrook and the criminal apprehension in Westport. Both are being held by Old Saybrook Police and are scheduled to appear in court Friday.
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