Fearless car thieves follow familiar pattern

Less than six hours.

That's how much time elapsed between the time a 21-year-old man reported his 1985 Monte Carlo stolen and the time it was found stripped and dumped in the Cherry Tree neighborhood.

The car was missing its engine, transmission, tires, stereo, gear shift, license plate and other parts.

Each morning, Richmond County sheriff's deputies find cars stolen from all over the area abandoned in the 15th Street housing project.

"These vehicles are turning up on a daily basis out here," Sgt. Robbie Silas said. "They're leaving them on blocks; they are leaving them in the middle of roadways."

At 1,428, the number of automobile thefts from January to October of this year is up slightly over 2008 in Richmond County. Compared month to month, in October there were 186 thefts versus 163 the same time last year. Exact statistics for the Cherry Tree neighborhood and surrounding area were not immediately available.

Billy Dixon, who investigates car thefts for the sheriff's office, said the thieves seem to be targeting older model General Motors cars because they are easier to steal. Computer systems and chips embedded in the keys of late-model vehicles are a deterrent.

He said it's hard to say whether most car thefts are random incidents or organized efforts by experienced thieves, but, he said, there are "repeat offenders" who are at work in the area.

Sgt. Silas is more direct. He believes thieves are operating unlicensed garages nearby and might be stripping parts from the cars there, then dropping them in the yards of vacant homes. If they plan on picking them up later, they will leave them parked near an apartment in Cherry Tree.

"They'll drop them off at night and pick them back up if they're not found," he said.

On Tuesday, deputies found a North Augusta man's Chevrolet Silverado truck parked in the fire lane on Bleakley Street. The tires had been removed, then replaced with scrap tires in order to drive the truck to its resting place in Cherry Tree. A large metal toolbox was stolen from the truck's bed.

Sgt. Silas said thieves leave cars in plain sight. "They're not scared, and they're good," he said.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.

TIPS TO PREVENT LOSS

- Always lock your vehicle.

- Never hide a second set of keys in the vehicle. Store spare keys in your wallet or purse.

- Park in a well-lighted, busy area.

- Avoid parking beside vans, pickups and other large vehicles. They can make it more difficult for others to observe your vehicle.

- Never leave your vehicle running unattended.

- Avoid transferring items to the trunk of a vehicle where it is parked. A thief might be watching.

- Checkbooks, credit cards or other credentials should not be left in a vehicle, and don't leave packages or valuables in sight.

- Don't disconnect the buzzer that warns of keys in the ignition. It's for your protection.

Source: Columbia County Sheriff's Office

 

STOLEN VEHICLES BY THE NUMBERS

1,428: Vehicle thefts reported in Richmond County through October, just 265 fewer than were reported in all of 2008

186: Vehicle thefts reported in Richmond County in October, an increase of 23 over 2008

Source: Richmond County Sheriff's Office