Investigators say home security footage foiled a scheme to stage a car crash to look like a hit-and-run in hopes of cashing in on a $30,000 insurance claim.
Now five residents of Southern California have been arrested and are facing felony fraud charges related to the September 2021 crash in Ontario.
The California Department of Insurance released the security footage on Wednesday.
The video shows a light-colored midsize SUV pull up to an intersection and stop directly in the middle. The driver can then be seen getting out of the vehicle and walking out of frame to safety.
Seconds later, a dark-colored midsize SUV plows into the vehicle in the intersection at a high rate of speed. The driver of that vehicle then calmly gets out and walks in the same direction as the driver of the other vehicle.
Officials say the two drivers then fled the scene.
A woman at the scene then called the Ontario Police Department and said she was the victim of a hit-and-run, but witnesses told police that the woman had actually showed up after the crash happened.
An investigation was launched by the Inland Empire Automobile Insurance Fraud Task Force, which is comprised of officers from several local law enforcement agencies.
Investigators discovered the home security footage and determined that the crash had to have been staged.
Through their investigation, they identified five people involved in a scheme to make an insurance claim that could’ve paid out more than $30,000, the Department of Insurance said.
Rather than receive that cash payout, those five people were arrested and named as co-conspirators.
They’ve been identified as Priscilla Carmona Arajo, 29, of Fontana; Juan Barajas, 25, of Upland; Gabriella Cervantes, 52, of Rancho Cucamonga; Roberto Carlos Macias, 40, of Chino; and Humberto Ortiz, 32, of Ontario.
Macias and Ortiz have been identified as the alleged drivers who fled and Carmona Arajo as the woman who claimed she was the victim of the hit-and-run. Barajas and Cervantes were the registered owners of one of the vehicles and are accused of filing false police reports.
All five were arrested in January. Barajas was already in custody in an Orange County jail on an unrelated charge.
They are expected to face charges for knowingly presenting fraudulent insurance claim which carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison.
The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the case.
The California Department of Insurance said it was fortunate that no innocent drivers were victimized in this particular scheme, but staged collisions do happen. To protect yourself from similar crimes, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara’s office suggests drivers to document as much information as possible, take photos and videos and insist on filing a police report and having an officer identify everyone involved.
If you suspect you may have been the victim of a staged accident, you contact the Department of Insurance online or by calling 800-927-4357.