POLK COUNTY, Fla. -- A crime spree involving four teenage suspects could have been prevented had homeowners locked their vehicles and closed their garage door, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Thursday.
Four suspects, from age 16 to 19, were arrested Wednesday in connection with five vehicle thefts and the burglaries of "several unlocked cars," from three subdivisions in the Lakeland and Mulberry area.
Deputies interrupted the crime spree after utilizing the an onboard tracking device on one stolen vehicle to locate two suspects. Four stolen vehicles were found in the area of Market Square East near W. Pipkin Road. Two suspects were located in one of the cars.
After interviewing two suspects, PCSO identified two more suspects who were later arrested. One suspect hid in the attic of one residence but surrendered when deputies forced him to surrender after using gas in the attic.
According to Sheriff Judd, the car thefts happened to unlocked vehicles and another two vehicles were stolen when a garage door was left open, giving the suspects access to car keys inside of the houses.
"The most important message about this crime spree is this: if you LOCK YOUR CARS [sic] and secure your belongings, you are almost guaranteeing that you will not be a victim of theft. Every vehicle stolen during this crime spree was unlocked, with the keys inside of it - the only exception are the two cars whose keys were taken from inside the home where the garage door is up," Judd said.
19-year-old Donte Scott, of Lakeland, was the sole suspect above the age of 18 in this case. Two other male suspects and a female suspect, all age 17, were also arrested. We will not identify the juveniles in this case per our crime reporting guidelines.
Each suspect has been charged with 17 counts of armed burglary, five counts of grand theft of a motor vehicle, four counts of grand theft, three counts of petty theft and one count of conspiracy to commit burglary.
Scott, whom PSCO reported has been sent to Polk County Jail on five prior occasions, was also charged with one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Deputies reported that the car thefts and burglaries began the night of October 18th and continued into the morning of October 19 in the subdivisions of Shepherd Oaks, Imperial Lakes and Casa Loma.
On the morning of October 19, victims living on Peninsular Drive reported to PCSO that the suspects allegedly entered their home though an open garage door. Deputies said that they stole car keys, a wallet and a camera from a counter and used the keys to steal a 2003 Chevrolet Avalanche and a 2004 Buick LeSabre.
Deputies then discovered more car burglaries on Hayter Drive and two attempted burglaries on Sunset Ridge. What followed were more reported thefts of a Chrysler 200 from Shepherd Oaks Road and a 2013 Chevrolet Cruze and a 2011 Dodge Caliber in Imperial Lakes.
Two weapons were also taken from unlocked cars in Loma Verde: a Ruger revolver handgun and a Bond 410 handgun.
In total, PCSO reported that 10 cases were cleared due to the arrests. >PCSO added that the suspects attempted to open several other vehicles but were unsuccessful because they were locked.