California driving teacher is charged with staging car crashes in fraud scheme

California authorities have charged a defensive driving instructor with 54 felony counts of insurance fraud, as well as charges of reckless driving and assault with a deadly weapon, saying he intentionally caused car accidents to elicit payouts.

The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, which will prosecute the case, worked with the California Department of Insurance on a joint investigation into the activities of Eliu Canales, 43, of Stockton. The two agencies said that Canales orchestrated 22 vehicle crashes from 2017 to 2022. At the time, he was teaching defensive driving and working as a lead AAA tow truck driver.

“Thank you to Deputy District Attorney Marjorie Burrise and our partners at the California Department of Insurance for uncovering these transgressions,” said District Attorney Ron Freitas. “Automobile insurance fraud is a crime. The potential loss of life is highly concerning,and I applaud the Grant Operations and Community Prosecution unit for their efforts in mitigating the impact of fraud on our residents.”

What tactic did Canales use to cause the Stockton-area collisions?

He would hide in the blind spots of other drivers, insurance regulators stated, and when those drivers went to change lanes, he would speed up and sometimes turn into the other vehicles. Canales filed $86,000 in claims and collected $35,000, prosecutors said.

Canales also allegedly recorded the collisions with audio and video equipment, posting the videos at his Stockton Drivers channel on YouTube to highlight “bad drivers.” The videos, many of which have been removed, showed that the accidents often occurred at the same locations.

Canales was arrested March 14. Freitas’ office said Canales reappears before a judge for a bail review on March 29.

If you suspect that you have been the victim of a staged collision, insurance regulators and prosecutors recommended that you file a police report, document what happened and report it to the state Department of Insurance by calling 800-927-4357.