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Police investigate string of car thefts

Aidan Leonard

SUMMIT COUNTY – It started with the discovery of three demolished, torched cars. Now, a complicated investigation into a recent crime spree involves the theft of at least six cars, one motorcycle, one firearm – and the burglary of the deputy’s home – all in the last 11 days.

Details of the investigation are still unclear, with law enforcement officials reluctant to publicize information that may compromise their case. However, recent arrests and a handful of leads may be pointing to an imminent conclusion.

“As it stands now, I think we have a pretty good idea of what’s been going on,” said Capt. Derek Woodman with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. “I think we’re

getting pretty close.”

The timeline of events may stretch back as far as one year, when a stolen car was discovered in a case that bears remarkable resemblances to the proceedings of the last few weeks.

However, an early-morning complaint about noise from a motorcycle on July 13 may have been the impetus for what could turn out to be a major bust for local law enforcement.

In the motorcycle incident, two youths were seen riding what later turned out to be a stolen bike in Summit Cove. When pursued by a sheriff’s deputy, they fled on the bike, eventually crashed and escaped on foot.

Three days earlier, the burnt cars had been discovered by deputies at the Lost Mine, near Gibson Hill outside of Breckenridge.

According to Woodman, it appears that whoever stole the cars may have crashed them in a demolition derby-style event before setting them on fire.

“This is right out of a segment of the “Jackass’ movie, except for the burning,” he said, referring to a scene in a recent popular movie where the actors rent a car, enter it in a demolition derby and essentially destroy it.

“The intent for the theft of the vehicles was to absolutely destroy (them). (It) was to use (them) for crash derbys or whatever and ultimately bounce (them) off trees and cars and rocks, absolutely destroying the cars,” Woodman said.

Still, it wasn’t until July 17, when a 1993 Ford Bronco, stolen in the previous few days, was discovered at the Gibson Hill site by its owners that similarities in the thefts began to appear. That prompted suspicions the theft was only one in what could turn out to be a series of

related incidents.

From July 12-22, at least four separate vehicles were stolen in addition to the motorcycle. As the thefts piled up, officials began investigating possible connections among the incident.

Finally, when one of the stolen vehicles was recently recovered in Sterling on the Eastern Plains, its four occupants were arrested and are now considered suspects in each of the incidents, Woodman said.

He identified the four as Summit County youths, both minors and adults.

In the meantime, the investigation has spread to include a variety of crimes, venues and jurisdictions, Summit County Sheriff Joe Morales said, including the burglary of a deputy’s home in Frisco.

The burglary, which included the theft of the deputy’s firearm, is being investigated by the Frisco Police Department.

Both Frisco police and sheriff’s office officials declined to comment on how the matter was specifically related to the car thefts, though they did say the firearm has since been recovered.

“It’s a really complicated deal,” the sheriff said.

With the identification of one of the burnt cars at Gibson Hill as a stolen vehicle from Iowa, additional out-of-state law enforcement agencies may soon become involved, Woodman said. Still, he noted that the investigation was not complete.

“We don’t know how many of these are tied together or if any of them are tied together,” Woodman said.

Nevertheless, he pointed to a string of similarities, including the demolition of the cars and the fact that in all but two of the incidents, the keys to the vehicle had been left inside it.

“We’ve got to be absolutely conscious of leaving keys in an unlocked vehicle,” Woodman said. “That clearly makes it too easy of a target for anybody. We like to think we live up here in a small community and that nothing like this happens, but in realty it does.”

Various officials said that despite the complexity of the investigation, it was high on their priority list and that they expected it to wrap up shortly.

“We’ve got several leads, but it has not been completed at this point,” Woodman said. “We’re working on it daily.”

Aidan Leonard can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or aleonard@summitdaily.com.


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