Arrest, seizure of getaway car appear to stop rash of break-ins

Nine vehicles in the Willowdale, Willowridge and Lakewood Drive area were broken into last weekend, which continued a string of car burglaries that began in May but increased in June and July.

However, after a recent arrest and the seizure of a getaway car last weekend, St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne said that no new thefts have been reported.

The thefts have taken place all over the parish, but most have been on the West Bank,  Champagne said. Though vehicle break-ins always rise in the summer, Champagne said this recent event is unusual because of the sheer amount of vehicles that have been targeted.

“We have been hit really hard in June and July,” he said. “Some of the incidents at first seemed  isolated, but  in July we started to see trends that really got our attention.”

In May, five vehicles in the Lakewood and Mimosa Park area were targeted. In that case, a witness reported a dark-colored vehicle following a person walking through the neighborhood. The thieves made off with cash and an iPod. Four of the vehicles were unlocked at the time of the theft.

Two months after that incident,  11 auto burglaries were reported on July 12 on River Park Drive in Hahnville. Again, the thieves targeted unlocked vehicles and made away with pricey merchandise that included GPS units, a laptop, a camera, fishing supplies, a pair of binoculars and an Internet router. This string of break-ins caused Champagne to send out a parishwide e-mail alert warning citizens of the apparent trend.

The next week, three vehicles were burglarized on Rosedown in Destrehan and two vehicles were entered on Melrose. Most of the vehicles were unlocked.

Shortly after that, on July 22, alert neighbors on Riverview Drive in St. Rose noticed a 17-year-old male attempting to enter two vehicles. Deputies quickly arrived and arrested the suspect, Richard Leger.

Leger was charged with the attempted burglary of two vehicles and two counts of possession of stolen property.
Champagne said he is hopeful that the arrest will slow vehicle break-ins on the East Bank, and said a stolen vehicle should lead to a quick arrest in the recent string of West Bank burglaries.

The vehicle, a 1990 Lexus, was discovered by deputies early Saturday morning near the scene of the recent car burglaries. At 4 a.m., a woman heard a noise outside of her apartment in the 100 block of Lakewood Drive. After taking a look outside, she observed two white males running in the direction of Highway 90. Though deputies searched the area for hours without finding the two men, they were able to locate the stolen vehicle.

“When we knocked on the car owner’s door that morning in Metairie, she said the car must have been stolen, but hadn’t reported it yet.” Champagne said. “It appears that one person was driving the vehicle in front of the targeted neighborhoods to serve as a lookout while the other person went around checking for unlocked vehicles.”

Since finding the vehicle and making an arrest on the East Bank, Champagne said there has not been any vehicle burglaries on either side of the river.

“It is quite likely that one or two perpetrators can be responsible for a lot of thefts,”Champagne said.

A huge way to prevent being victimized by the burglars is by locking doors and taking valuables out of a vehicle, Champagne said.  History has shown that a thief won’t risk breaking the window if he doesn’t see valuables inside, he added.

“I have been preaching these two simple precautions for years, but a lot of citizens don’t seem to get the message until they become a victim,” Champagne said. “I’m not surprised at the valuables people are leaving in their vehicles because I have seen it for years.

“I always tell people that I grew up in old Luling and I’m the sheriff, but I still lock my doors.”

Some people do appear to be getting the message, because while there have been 38 reported burglaries in July alone, Champagne said the thieves are probably approaching and pulling on the doors of hundreds of vehicles.

“These people know what they’re doing and it’s difficult to catch them at 4 a.m.,” Champagne said. “Locking doors is a simple way to deter them.”


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