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Suspects in rash of car burglaries believe to have fled to Pinellas County

Pasco investigators say three suspects burglarized more than 20 cars, stole vehicle
Posted at 3:19 PM, Jul 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-18 18:41:23-04

LAND O’ LAKES, Fla. — The Pasco Sheriff’s Office is investigating a rash of vehicle burglaries and a vehicle theft in Land O’Lakes.

Investigators say early Saturday morning, three men hit about 20 vehicles in the Ballantrae subdivision.

Investigators believe items the suspects stole included a white 2017 Infiniti Q60 from a resident’s garage, and Smith and Wesson Shield .45 caliber pistol. They also say the suspects may have been driving a possibly stolen Mercedes Benz CLA.

“it’s disgusting but at the same time I’m kind of thankful because now I know I made a mistake and need to lock up my vehicle,” said resident Josh Lawton.

RELATED: 15-year-old arrested for crashing stolen car into St. Pete Police sergeant's cruiser

His vehicle was burglarized, but Lawton said the sheriff’s office was able to find and return a wallet taken from him.

"Around here everybody knows everybody, kids know everybody, kids play with other kids and something like that happens you must think wow it’s not as safe as you think," Lawton said.

Investigators said they found the stolen Infiniti in Pinellas Park area.

“We do see crews, suspect crews, that are coming out of other counties but we do see an uptick in crews out of the St. Petersburg area. A lot of times when we make arrests in these cases a lot of these subjects end up being from the St. Petersburg area,” said Pasco County Detective David Garcia.

It’s the latest case this week involving stolen vehicles and Pinellas County.

On Tuesday morning, St. Petersburg police arrested a teen after he crashed a stolen vehicle into a police cruiser.

Wednesday, Hillsborough County deputies said they were investigating two cars stolen from a neighborhood in Apollo Beach. One of the vehicles was found in St. Petersburg and the other vehicle was last seen on the Skyway Bridge.

Wednesday evening, drivers sat in a back up on the Howard Franklin Bridge after Pinellas County deputies stopped what they believed to be a stolen car and took two people into custody.

“This is really a Bay Area epidemic with vehicle burglaries and stolen cars. Criminals just come in and it’s a low skill crime where you simply just pull door handles,” said Pinellas County Deputy Chuck Skipper.

ABC Action News learned more than 40,000 vehicles were stolen last year. In the Tampa Bay area, Hillsborough had 1,827 vehicle thefts, Pinellas had 1,749, Polk had 990 and Pasco had 632.

Skipper said Pinellas is a densely populated area, so criminals can pull more door handles than they can in more rural areas. He reminds people no matter their neighborhood, to lock their doors and to not keep valuables inside a car.

“Pinellas County is very aggressive in trying to combat this. Deputies go around at night and we pull door handles when the call volume is low,” Skipper said. “And if we find a vehicle that’s unlocked we leave one of these obnoxious fliers on your vehicle and lock it for you.”

St. Peterburg police said vehicle thefts are down for their department, though it’s still a problem. They’re asking people to be vigilant and take their keys out of their cars.

In Pasco County, investigators said all the cars burglarized were unlocked. Surveillance showed the suspects trying to enter more cars, but they did not gain access to locked vehicles.

If you know anything about the case in Pasco, call the Paso Sheriff’s Office Crime Tips Line at 1-800-706-2488 in reference to case #19-028863.