After 188,000 Northern Californians fled for their lives during the Oroville Dam emergency, a few stayed behind to burglarize evacuees’ houses.
One of them got a life sentence this week.
John F. Beebe Jr. was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison Wednesday after pleading no contest in October to a felony charge of first degree residential burglary. Beebe had seven prior felony burglary convictions and was sentenced under the state’s three-strikes law, said his attorney Leo Battle.
Battle said the Butte County district attorney’s office has taken a hard line on looting cases stemming from the February evacuations, refusing to allow defendants to bargain their cases down to lesser charges. Instead, defendants have been told to plead to the maximum possible charge or go to trial.
“We consider these folks despicable predators and we wanted to send a message that they couldn’t take advantage of the community,” said District Attorney Michael Ramsey. “If citizens were reluctant to evacuate because they were afraid of looters, that puts everybody at risk.”
A total of eight people were charged with looting after the Oroville evacuation. Beebe, a Gridley resident, is the first to get a life sentence. Two cases are still pending.
Given Beebe’s criminal record, “there’s nothing you can do in these cases,” Battle said. “Basically, the client said, ‘I did it.’”
He said Beebe has struggled with methamphetamine addiction “since he was a juvenile.” He was accused of taking about $2,000 worth of jewelry, clothing and electronics from a home in Gridley during the two-day evacuation.
Officials ordered the evacuation after dam officials feared the structure’s emergency spillway would fail, unleashing a “wall of water” on downstream communities.
Phase 2 of the Oroville Dam emergency spillway repair continues, and some wildlife came to check out the progress.