A duo of alleged car thieves was arrested by police in South Arlington Monday after an officer was injured by a fleeing suspect whose stolen car collided with her cruiser.
The cars crashed in the Nauck neighborhood when the suspect reportedly ran a stop sign to evade another police car that was following him. The injured officer, who was wearing her seat belt, was treated at a local hospital and released. The suspect, 26-year-old Dennis Lee Girard of Washington, D.C., was ejected from the vehicle and also was treated for minor injuries.
Shortly before 1 a.m. on the 2400 block of South Glebe Road, an off-duty officer working as security guard for a nearby hotel observed Girard attempting to steal a car, according police department spokesman Matt Martin. As the officer approached the vehicle on foot, a second man parked nearby, later identified as 19-year-old Eugene Antoine Kelly of Washington, D.C., shouted a warning and drove away.
Girard fled the scene in the stolen car but was spotted by another officer who began to follow him. Girard accelerated and ran a stop sign at the intersection of Shirlington Road and S. 24th Street where his vehicle struck a third officer responding to the call. The officer who collided with the stolen car did not have a stop sign at the intersection.
Kelly was sighted by police near the crash but fled on foot. Police searched the area with the help of a U.S. Park Police helicopter and a Falls Church Police Department K-9 unit. Kelly escaped and was arrested by police officers Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C. Kelly is currently in the custody of D.C. Metro Police pending extradition to Arlington. Two cars stolen from Prince George's County were recovered at the scene of Kelly's arrest. Kelly is charged with three felonies: eluding, possession of stolen property and conspiracy to commit grand larceny auto. Girard is charged with two felonies: eluding and grand larceny auto. He is currently being held in Arlington on a $5,000 bond.
"It looks like these guys were in the business of stealing cars," Martin said Tuesday. According to police statistics, auto theft is on the decline in Arlington. In 2001, car thieves pilfered 703 cars off the county's streets. One year later, that number fell to 639 and to 600 by 2003.
PART OF THE REASON fewer cars are being stolen is because more car thieves are being caught in the act thanks to a special program carried out by APD's Auto Theft Unit. Detectives are planting specially designed "bait cars" throughout the county to draw would-be thieves. Fitted with video and audio surveillance equipment along with a satellite-tracking device, the cars have netted 31 arrests since the program's inception in 2002.
Det. Chris Dengeles brought the idea of bait cars to Arlington after seeing a similar program succeed at reducing car theft in Minneapolis, Minn.
“The cars give us invaluable evidence in court,” Dengeles said Friday. “You can see the suspects in action trying to steal the car and sometimes you even hear them talking about chopping up the vehicle and selling the parts. Thank goodness law enforcement is starting to catch up with technology.”
The size of the APD’s bait car fleet and the type of cars it uses to lure car thieves is top secret according to Dengeles.
“We want the bad guys to think we’ve got one on every corner,” he said.
Although the rate of car theft in Arlington has dropped, the detective said auto theft operations are far beyond the acts of joyriding teenagers. Stealing a car is often the first step to a larger crime.
“Any time a car is used for something like a bank robbery, its typically a stolen one,” he said.
STOLEN CARS can also be stripped of their parts and sold to body shops. These “chop shops” once operated out of corrupt auto body stores but since police are now paying closer attention to suspicious nightly activity at these stores, many car thieves are moving their operations into rural areas where they are less likely to draw attention.
“It looks suspicious if you see guys working in a shop at two in the morning but if you see a couple of guys working on a car late at night in someone’s backyard, that looks a little more like a bunch of buddies working on a friend’s car or something,” Dengeles said.
He added several such shops will purchase stolen parts and pass them off to consumers as new. In other cases, some car owners will pay thieves to steal their cars to collect insurance money. The cars are then smuggled out of the country and sold abroad.
To prevent car theft, Dengeles said the police department recommends a “layered” approach to prevention. Cars owners should try to park in well-lit areas, lock their car doors and consider using alarms or other devices.
“A lot of people say they ignore alarms when they hear them but they usually always look to see where the sound is coming from and car thieves rarely want to stay near a car if the alarm is sounding,” Dengeles said.
BUT THE FIRST STEP to preventing auto theft is common sense. Dengeles said roughly five to 10 percent of stolen cars are stolen because the owners left the keys inside, sometimes in the ignition with the engine running to warm the car on a cold morning. Most car thieves have discovered how to beat “The Club”, a steering wheel lock that can be circumvented by sawing through the steering wheel. One new product Dengeles recommended is a brake pedal lock.
“Most cars require you to press the break pedal to put the car in gear,” he said. “These prevent you from being able to do that.”