Richmond County sheriff’s investigators are searching for an Augusta man suspected in about a dozen automobile thefts since he was released from prison less than two months ago.
Willard Trottie, 26, was paroled March 12 after spending about nine months in the state prison system for previous auto theft convictions in Richmond County.
After his release, Trottie never reported to his parole officer, and a parole violation warrant was issued for his arrest April 12, said sheriff’s Investigator Aaron Hannsz.
Within three weeks of his release, police say, Trottie was up to his old tricks, stealing old cars and selling them to junkyards and auto salvage companies before they were reported stolen.
Investigator Billy Dixon described Trottie as a con man who looks for old cars parked on side streets and in people’s yards. In several cases, police say, Trottie would call a salvage company, explain that he had a junk car he wanted to sell and have the company haul the car away before the owner knew what was happening.
Nick Oliver, who works for his father’s company, NSK Towing and Recovery, said Trottie called him to a house on Sixth Avenue on Tuesday to take away a 1987 Mercury Cougar. Oliver said Trottie explained that the vehicle was a relative’s car that it needed to be taken to the scrapyard.
“We checked the VIN number and everything seemed to be OK,” Oliver said, explaining that it is customary to check vehicle identification numbers to ensure a car isn’t stolen.
Oliver said he gave Trottie a few hundred dollars for the car and hauled it to Southern Pik-A-Part on Doug Barnard Parkway to make a quick profit.
“You can double your money pretty fast if you don’t pay too much,” he said.
Later that day, the car’s owner, Jeffery Humphries, came home to find the Mercury missing and called police.
Investigators found the car Thursday, and Friday they found two other cars at Southern Pik-A-Part that police say Trottie sold to the Olivers.
One of the cars was a Ford pickup truck that police say Trottie drove away from a south Augusta used car dealership after asking for a “test drive.”
Dixon said it is easy to sell old cars for junk because Georgia doesn’t require a title to sell a car that is at least 12 years old.
Hannsz said he and Dixon tracked down Trottie the last time he was accused of stealing cars, in 2011. In some of those cases, Hannsz said, Trottie claimed to be a student at Augusta Technical College who was looking for vehicles to repair as part of his course work. Hannsz said Trottie convinced a few car owners that he would repair their cars in class for the cost of the parts.
“He took their money and the vehicles and within a couple days those cars were at the junk yard,” Hannsz said.
Trottie was charged with six counts of auto theft in a March 2011 indictment. He pleaded guilty to four of those charges and was sentenced to two years’ confinement and five years’ probation on each charge and ordered by Superior Court Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet to pay fines and restitution totaling $8,120.
Dixon said investigators have searched all the addresses that Trottie is known to frequent and suspect he might be staying in South Carolina. In the meantime, he expects more auto thefts that will be Trottie’s doing.
“We’re hoping that somebody will see his face in the news and recognize him and drop a dime on this subject,” Dixon said.