Authorities search for other victims of accused mortuary thief

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Authorities put out a call Tuesday for any additional alleged victims of a mortuary services worker accused of looting a recently deceased Spring Valley man’s home, carrying away valuables with a gurney and a body bag.

Sammy Willie Gates, 49, allegedly ransacked the 60-year-old man’s house late on the night of Aug. 31, about 11 hours after deputies conducting a welfare check found the resident dead of natural causes, according to sheriff’s officials.

On Sept. 2, one of the victim’s relatives reported discovering items, including a firearm and safe, missing from the residence, Sgt. Karen Bloch said. Two days later, the family reported that reviews of surveillance camera footage had revealed that the home of the victim, whose name has not been released, had been burglarized.

The video clips showed a man — later identified by investigators as Gates, owner of independently operated Mortuary Transportation Services — arriving at the man’s house in a white utility van, the sergeant said.

Gates allegedly entered the home and exited shortly thereafter with two bags filled with stolen property, then returned with a gurney and an empty body bag that he used to haul away more property.

On Sept. 9, detectives from the Rancho San Diego Sheriff’s Station served a search warrant at Gates’ El Cajon-area home, where the deceased man’s safe and gun allegedly were recovered, along with 16 additional firearms, many believed to be war relics dating back to the early 1900s.

“Two additional safes, multiple personal identifying documents, jewelry, watches, war medals, comic books and several thousand dollars in collectable coins were also recovered from Gates’ residence,” the sergeant alleged. “A gurney and body bags matching (those seen in) the surveillance video (from) the victim’s residence were recovered from Gates’ white utility van.”

Gates was jailed on suspicion of residential burglary and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Since Gates’ arrest, detectives have identified five additional victims of similar crimes allegedly committed by the suspect, Bloch alleged.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call San Diego County Crime Stoppers at 888-580-8477 or contact the agency online at sdcrimestoppers.org. Tipsters may remain anonymous and could be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.

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