Winter Haven police said they believe a rash of purse snatchings and a carjacking are connected to a group preying on victims across the Bay Area.
Late Wednesday night Lake Wales Police arrested five suspects wanted in connection to the series of crimes.
Of the five, only one is an adult: Chrishawn Laboris Jones, 19, of Eagle Lake. Jones is being charged with Grand Theft of a Motor Vehicle and Violation of Probation. Two of the suspects are 17 years of age and two are 16 years old.
One of the teens had the keys to the stolen car when he was arrested. The 17-year-old is being charged with Grand Theft of a Motor Vehicle. The other three juveniles are being charged with Trespass of a Conveyance.
The crime spree began on March 9, when Winter Haven police said a man came out of church and realized his gold 2001 Jeep Cherokee was missing. That is the same car victims described as the getaway car in their attacks. It was also captured on surveillance video leaving the scene of multiple crimes across the Bay Area.
“He just snatched my purse,” Kathy, who did not want us to use her last name said. “I am afraid to carry my purse. I am afraid to walk outside my house alone. I feel very different from the way that I felt prior to this incident I am very afraid.”
Kathy had her purse snatched Sunday in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart located at 355 Cypress Gardens Boulevard SE in Winter Haven.
The 71-year old woman who is currently hospitalized after breaking her wrist was attacked just days later in the parking lot of Publix at 1384 6th Street NW in Winter Haven. Police said the female victim was approached by the suspect who asked her directions to a Baptist Church. When the victim stepped closer to talk he he grabbed the victim's purse strap which was still wrapped around the victims arm. As she fought back she fell to the ground and broke her wrist.
“They are cowards,” Winter Haven Police Capt. Mitch Meadows said. “They are preying on the weak, stalking their targets. They are going to get theirs we'll see to that.”
Police urge all women to keep their purses at home or shop in groups. If you have a purse on you keep it close to your body and don't let it dangle off of your arm, and of course be wary of your surroundings. Police said they don't know when and where the group might strike again.
The following is a list of locations where all of the current crimes have occurred:
Wednesday, March 9th 2016 (6:45 - 8:30 p.m.)
Lakeland/Calvary Baptist Church, 1945 Florida Avenue North (Stolen Vehicle)
Friday, March 11th 2016 (2:30 p.m.)
Seffner (Hillsborough County)/Publix Parking Lot 11782 Dr. King Blvd E
Saturday, March 12th 2016 (4:15 p.m.)
Haines City/Walmart Parking Lot 36205 Highway 27
Sunday, March 13th 2016 (4:49 p.m.)
Lake Wales/Eagle Ridge Mall, Dillard's Parking Lot 100 Eagle Ridge Drive
Sunday, March 13th 2016 (6:43 p.m.)
Winter Haven/Walmart Parking Lot 355 Cypress Gardens Boulevard SE.
Monday, March 14th 2016 (12:00 noon)
Bradenton (Manatee County)/Publix Parking Lot 4651 Cortez Road W.
Monday, March 14th 2016 (1:30 p.m.)
Clearwater (Pinellas County)/WalMart Parking Lot 23106 US Hwy 19 N.
Tuesday, March 15th 2016 (6:50 p.m.)
Winter Haven/Publix Parking Lot 1384 6th Street NW