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Suspected Ambulance Thief Charged In San Francisco Court After Fiery Treasure Island Crash

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A woman charged with the alleged theft of a San Francisco Fire Department ambulance that ended in a fiery crash on Treasure Island on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to felony charges Thursday.

Veronica Barahona, 37, was arraigned in San Francisco Superior Court on felony unlawful taking of a vehicle and felony unlawful taking of a special vehicle.

Prosecutors asked for bail to be set at $75,000, given the value of the vehicle taken and the risk posed to the public by the subsequent pursuit and crash.

"I must emphasize for the court that this is a very unusual and egregious vehicle theft," Assistant District Attorney Traci Lee said.

However, Judge Charles Crompton granted Barahona, an Oakland resident, supervised release, saying he felt "she needs treatment more than incarceration."

Deputy Public Defender Ariana Downing said Barahona is a mother of three children who has struggled with addiction issues. She was working to get her life in order earlier this year and earned a certification to be a forklift driver and work in a warehouse, but recently relapsed, Downing said.

Barahona was arrested Tuesday after a pursuit that started near San Francisco's Union Square around 8 a.m. near the Ambassador Hotel at 55 Mason St., where emergency personnel were responding to a medical emergency.

Barahona is alleged to have driven the ambulance east onto the Bay Bridge and then exited at Treasure Island, where she lost control and crashed on the side of the road, according to police.

The ambulance caught fire and police were able to detain the suspect.

The collision closed the eastbound Treasure Island off-ramp for nearly two hours and caused major traffic delays on the Bay Bridge and other nearby highways.

San Francisco Fire Department spokesman Jonathan Baxter said ambulances cost around $150,000 each, and the equipment inside an additional $50,000 to $75,000. The department is still assessing how much of the equipment inside the damaged ambulance is salvageable.

The ambulance in question was among the oldest in the department's 54-vehicle fleet and was likely to be replaced in August when nine new ambulances are scheduled to arrive, Baxter said.

"But whether it's a brand new ambulance or one of the oldest, it's something that is a resource and a valuable tool for the department," he said.

© Copyright 2016 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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