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Theft of cars up 43 percent

April 03, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

Heading out his door on the morning of Sept. 16, Greg Easterday stopped short when he saw an empty driveway where his red 1996 Jeep Cherokee had been parked the night before.

"It was gone. I walked out to go to work and it wasn't there," he said.

Easterday, of West Oak Ridge Drive, was one of 319 victims of motor vehicle theft in Washington County last year. That was the most ever recorded in one year and more than double the number reported four years ago, according to statistics from the Maryland State Police Uniform Crime Report.

The number went up 43 percent from 222 auto thefts in the county in 1996, the report said. In 1994, there were 152 auto thefts.

There was a number of vehicle thefts late last year at local park-and-ride lots, where people leave their vehicles for the day and carpool with others to work, said Lt. Donnie Knott, Hagerstown barrack commander of the Maryland State Police.

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Being close to the interstates, park-and-ride lots are convenient for thieves and allow for a quick getaway, he said.

Two people believed to be responsible for stealing most of the vehicles from the park-and-ride lots were arrested early this year, Knott said.

State police have since increased their patrols at the lots and at car dealerships, another popular target for car thieves, he said.

But police also are linking the surge in auto thefts to the area's growing drug trade.

"A lot of it is associated with drugs in the city," Knott said.

Of the 319 auto thefts in Washington County last year, 230 occurred in the City of Hagerstown.

That number jumped from 160 in 1996 and is more than double the 105 thefts reported in 1994, according to statistics provided by city police.

"We're hoping that as we get the drug problem down, through the efforts of the street crime unit and other ways, motor vehicle thefts will go down," said Hagerstown Police Chief Dale Jones.

Some cars stolen on the streets of Hagerstown turn up in Baltimore, Washington D.C., New York City and New Jersey, which corresponds with the addresses of most of the drug dealers arrested in Hagerstown, Jones said.

Vehicle thefts occur all over the city, not in one specific area, he said.

Some auto thieves travel to Hagerstown by bus, steal cars and drive them back to where they came from, he said.

Other cars are stolen and taken to so-called "chop shops" where they are stripped of their parts, renumbered and sold on the black market, Knott said.

The thieves who took Easterday's Jeep Cherokee - which is one of the top five models favored by thieves - were after its wheels, tires and stereo.

Washington County Sheriff's deputies found the Jeep abandoned and balanced on cinder blocks on Breathedsville Road the same day Easterday reported it stolen.

The thieves took a stroller and a playpen from the vehicle.

Washington County isn't the only rural county in Maryland experiencing a rise in auto thefts.

Garrett County to the west reported 26 motor vehicle thefts last year, up from 19 in 1996, according to the report.

"We still see people in the rural areas who don't lock their cars or take precautionary measures because they don't think they need to," Knott said.

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