Thefts from cars soar in 1996

February 17, 1997



Staff Writers

Washington County police agencies are urging residents to lock their car doors and stay alert amidst an alarming increase in thefts from autos.

In 1996, more than 700 such thefts - an average of nearly two a day - were handled by the county's three major police agencies - Maryland State Police, Washington County Sheriff's Department and Hagerstown Police Department.

The sheriff's department alone filed 336 theft from auto reports last year, but the number was really greater than that because some reports included multiple thefts from the same neighborhood, officers said.


Last year, there were a total of 425 thefts from autos reported in the county, according to the Maryland State Police Uniform Crime Report.

Chris Nauman of Hagerstown, who woke up last Monday to find $4,000 worth of items missing from his Jeep Grand Cherokee, is a recent auto theft victim.

"We got clobbered," said the Bower Avenue resident.

Nauman's losses included a laptop computer, a Casio address book, a duffel bag, 10 compact discs, $100 cash and several other items. A cellular phone and cassette tapes were stolen from his wife's car, he said.

In addition, several of his neighbors found items missing from their vehicles.

Nauman said he has been robbed at gunpoint three times on the job, but he said last week's thefts left him with a different feeling.

"The very idea that the car is in my driveway and someone walks across the shrubs to get to it,'' he said. "They just went from house to house. It was just infuriating. It's out of control. It's incredible."

The common thread in those thefts - and most car break-ins in the county - is that thieves targeted cars that were unlocked, police said.

"I don't think anybody locks their car anymore," said Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Richard Peacock, who patrols the Halfway area.

Statistics are not yet available for the first part of 1997, but anecdotal evidence suggests a rash of thefts from unattended vehicles. The thefts follow a sharp increase in thefts from autos last year.

Deputy Jeff Cooper said Halfway makes an inviting target for law-breakers because of its proximity to major highways and its heavy concentration of businesses.

"Halfway's a very busy sector," he said. "Plus, it's very business-oriented. You have the Valley Mall, and now that Wesel Boulevard is built up" there are a lot of opportunities to steal from parked cars.

Some theft victims did take the precaution of locking their doors.

Beverly Engstrom, who lives in the Londontowne Apartments, said she forgot to turn on her car alarm Monday night but still locked her car's doors.

When she woke up the next morning, Engstrom said she found that the vinyl top of her Jeep Wrangler had been sliced. Her losses: Compact discs, a CD changer, speakers and an amplifier.

Engstrom said she and her husband moved to the apartments shortly after they bought the Jeep.

"We thought we were moving to a safer neighborhood," she said. "We felt violated really badly.''

Eugene Kunze was also victimized on Monday night. Kunze, who lives in the Milestone Garden Apartments in Williamsport, said he noticed on Tuesday that his $200 radar detector was missing.

Kunze said he normally locks his door at night, but said he never felt vulnerable to crime near his home.

"At first, I was dumbfounded. I didn't think it would happen here in this area," he said. "I didn't think it would happen to me."

Maryland State Police Sgt. Steve Jessee said many people lock their cars when they're shopping but then relax once they return home.

"That's where they're most lax," he said. "But when you get home, you're asleep eight hours a day when these kinds of things tend to happen."

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