Thursday, July 26, 2007

Auto Break Ins On Rise

Car burglars hit Hancock County
Many residents still leaving autos unlocked, police say

By J.R. WELSH
baybureau@aol.com

HANCOCK COUNTY --

Law enforcement agencies countywide are investigating a rash of auto burglaries in which thieves are stealing cash, guns, cameras, jewelry and other valuables from vehicles that often have been left unlocked.

The burglars are indiscriminate about jurisdictional lines. Thefts have occurred in Waveland and Bay St. Louis, and an especially large number of cases has been reported in unincorporated Diamondhead.

"We've had 35 cases in Diamondhead in the last two weeks," Kenny Hurt, chief investigator for the Hancock County Sheriff's Department, said Monday. He said that 11 suspects - all under the age of 16 - have thus far been arrested, but burglaries continue.

In one Diamondhead case, thieves removed a digital camera from a car, took pornographic photos of themselves, then put the camera back in the car, Hurt said.

"There has been a rash of car burglaries all over the county and both cities," said Waveland Police Chief James Varnell. He said Waveland had seven car burglary reports recently, with five occurring in the past week.

In one Waveland case, he said, a man went outside about 1:35 a.m. after hearing his car's burglar alarm go off at his Sharon Street home. Thieves had smashed a rear window to enter the car and the owner found a front door standing open.

The burglars stole two guns - a two-shot Derringer and a .40-caliber Glock handgun - as well as $15,300 in cash. The burglars also stole a 14-carat gold bracelet with tiger stones from the same car, Varnell said.

Since Mississippi law treats someone's car as an extension of the home, it is not illegal for citizens to have guns in their cars.

The thefts are not being limited to auto contents, however. In another case, a Bay St. Louis resident reported seeing a four-wheeler being stolen from his house off Main Street. The man went outside just in time to see the four-wheeler being loaded into a white van with a ramp and being driven away.

Interim Bay St. Louis Police Chief Tom Burleson could not be reached for comment Monday.

In a Waveland neighborhood off Beach Boulevard, at least two other thefts occurred. One resident reported seeing a red pickup leave the area immediately after a car burglary.

Diamondhead resident Katie Breath, another burglary victim, said a purse containing identification, cash and a digital camera was stolen from her car after the lock had apparently been jimmied open. When she called Diamondhead security, she said, "They told me I was the seventh car burglary call that day."

Breath said such cases seem almost epidemic. "Every time I talk to someone, they have a similar story," she said Monday. "I talked with three others just last weekend."

Police are warning people to park their vehicles as close to their homes as possible in well-lighted spaces, and to make certain their cars are locked.

"They have been taking anything and everything," Hurt said. "And in 99 percent of all these burglaries, the vehicles were left unlocked."

Varnell also recommends that residents be watchful. "If you spot suspicious cars or persons in your neighborhood, call 911 immediately," he said.

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