By Reggie Ellis
Following a rash of car thefts that have plagued Tulare County since the beginning of the year, local law enforcement officials are asking residents not to leave their cars unattended while warming them up in the morning.
Since Jan. 1, 25 cars have been stolen in Lindsay, 16 in Exeter, 12 in Woodlake and about 15 from Farmersville, according to area police departments. Police disagree on whether or not the crimes were committed by individuals or a group, but the method in most of the thefts is similar.
In all four communities, the police departments reported that about 50% of the vehicles were stolen while left unattended in the morning as residents where letting their cars warm up or running back into the house to get their cup of coffee for the commute.
"It is nice to get into a warm car, but it is really nice to get into a car at all," Farmersville Police Chief Mario Krstic said. "It's something all of us do, you just have to be more careful."
Krstic said most of the cars that are stolen in Tulare County are late 1990s model Honda sedans and Chevy pick-ups. These cars have popular parts used in street racing or common parts that a majority of cars in the area are built with.
Krstic said there have been just as many if not more stolen vehicles in Farmersville. Krstic said that most of the area departments have at least one patrol car equipped with LowJack, the software that can remotely track a vehicle and shut down its engine. The problem is many area residents do not pay to have it installed in their vehicles.
Lt. Tim Brown said of the 25 cars stolen in Lindsay, 22 were recovered either by the police department, Sheriff's Office or California Highway Patrol. Lindsay Police Department has also made four arrests in connection with car thefts, the most recent being a Woodlake man.
"It is too early to tell if he is the guy, we will have to give it some time to see if the numbers significantly drop," Brown said.
The Woodlake Police Department arrested another Woodlake man two weeks ago. "We aren't sure if they are related or if he is connected to all of the stolen cars," Lt. Ron Hughart said. "But we haven't had one since."
In all, the Exeter Police Department has arrested 10 suspects for stealing vehicles. Lt. Cliff Bush said all of the vehicles that are recovered were not burned or stripped for parts. He said the evidence points to the use of the cars for everyday driving, such as abandoned baby seats, fast food wrappers and school papers.
"These are crimes of opportunity," Lt. Cliff Bush with the Exeter Police Department said. "These are people in their early 20s and teens that are just looking for transportation from point A to point B."
All area police departments are warning residents not to leave their cars unattended while warming them up in the morning. You should also never leave your keys in your car even for a few minutes. At least two of the subjects arrested were in possession of a firearm so police are warning everyone not to confront the car thieves.