By Linhchi Nguyen
FRESNO – A 41-year-old woman attempted to hijack a minivan at a funeral home while repeatedly saying that she wanted to “die,” according to witnesses here at a preliminary hearing in Fresno County Superior Court.
The two witnesses, who work at the Funeraria Del Angel Tinkler funeral home in Fresno, testified Thursday about their altercation with the defendant, Staci Austin Taylor, who allegedly attempted to hijack the funeral’s van June 8.
The van was initially driven by one of the funeral workers, who was in charge of delivering body removals and shipments. “On that particular day, I was going to the Secretary of State to deliver some papers,” the worker explained. He parked about 10 feet away from an office before going inside.
“I was standing inside the office, getting paperwork to go to Sacramento. I saw this young lady walk out, and by the time I got to the side door, she was already in my van, trying to put it into gear to drive away,” said the worker.
He confirmed that he did not recognize the defendant nor did any of the co-workers at the office. As soon as he saw Taylor entering his vehicle, he ran outside and started to “grapple with her, making sure she did not put the car in gear.”
At this time, the manager of the Tinkler Funeral Chapel was sitting at his desk, and he testified to coming outside to help his associate. Once he reached the vehicle, he noticed that the
engine was already running. Together, the two men wrestled with the defendant to try to pull her away from the van.
“[The funeral manager] had ahold of her left leg, pulling as hard as he could. At the same time, I was pulling at her left arm,” described the worker.
During the struggle, the defendant continued to look straight ahead toward the front windshield, gripping onto the steering wheel. Both witnesses testified that the defendant kept repeating to herself, “I want to die.”
At some point, one of the defendant’s shoes slipped off, causing the funeral manager to fall backwards. After getting back up, the manager ran to the other side of the vehicle and successfully retrieved the keys from the ignition.
The men ran back inside the building, leaving the defendant behind. However, the vehicle driver then realized, “I carried a bag with me that had a four-inch bud knife in it. And I realized at that time, it was still in the van.”
Thus, the location manager ran back out to obtain his co-worker’s belongings. But right as he reached the van, he saw that Ms. Taylor already had her hands on a black bag and was looking into it. It wasn’t until the manager grabbed the bag away from her that he saw a “fairly large knife” in the defendant’s right hand.
“It happened so fast, I don’t know how she got my bud knife,” the worker said. “But she had it. And [for] the rest of my belongings, [the location manager] had it in my bag.”
As he stood 10 feet away, the worker saw her stick the bud knife into the ignition, trying to get the car started. A few minutes later, the defendant crawled to the back of the vehicle as the men called the police.
“I was very concerned she was about to commit suicide,” said the worker.
Police arrived only minutes later and were able to get the defendant out of the van, unharmed. At no point did the defendant ever try to harm either of the workers, according to the testimony
After the witnesses gave their testimonies at Thursday’s prelim, the defendant pleaded no contest for attempted theft of a vehicle. Because she had a prior strike conviction for attempted robbery, her maximum sentence for this charge doubled, increasing to three years in prison.
The court accepted her plea and will refer her case to a probation officer. Sentencing is scheduled for October 19.
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