Several car thefts in Fulton County over the past month have taught residents that crime reaches into even rural areas they might consider safe.
Since about mid-June, the following vehicles have been stolen:
• June 18: A 2000 Ford pickup truck from the 3000 block of State Highway 120 in Metamora. Keys were left in the vehicle. It was recovered the next day on Sebring Road in Lenawee County, Mich. Items missing included floor mats, a shock-absorbing hitch, the truck’s grille, and a stereo system.
• June 27: A 2011 Chevrolet Silverado from All Spray, a pressure cleaning equipment dealership on Main Street in Swanton. Later that day, owners Al and Janet Bonifas received an anonymous phone call that the truck was spotted in a private driveway on the south side of Toledo. They traveled to retrieve it and called Toledo police, who told the couple to wait nearby for patrolmen. When the officers arrived 45 minutes later the truck had been moved. Toledo police recovered it two weeks later, dented and minus tool boxes and company signs applied to the doors.
• June 28: A 1990 Jeep Wrangler from the 2000 block of County Road C in Swancreek Township. It was recovered the next day in a field on County Road 5-2.
• July 1: A 1997 Dodge Dakota pickup truck from Lyons Community Park. Keys were left in the vehicle. It was recovered two days later on Miami Street in Toledo by the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Branden Huggins, 29, of Toledo was charged with receiving stolen property.
• July 6: A 2003 Ford Taurus was taken from the 1000 block of County Road N near Assumption. Keys were left in the vehicle. It has not been recovered.
Back on April 17, a 2002 Ford Explorer Sport Trak with keys left in the ignition was stolen in the county. It was recovered in Toledo, but without approximately $3,000 worth of items the owner had left inside, including a laptop computer, a wallet, blank checks, a GPS unit, a cell phone charger, and a digital voice recorder.
The Swanton, Archbold, and Delta police departments said there have been no more than the usual crimes involving vehicles in their communities. Archbold Chief Joe Wyse reported a couple instances of stolen car rims, once at Terry Henricks Motors. And Swanton Sgt. Tyler Gearig said there have been fewer car break-ins in the village this summer as compared to last. He attributes the decrease to more night patrols.
Still, Fulton County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Tracy Zuver said the number of vehicles stolen in the county over June and July is unusual. “That’s a lot for the county for a month. That doesn’t happen a whole lot, not on a consistent basis,” he said.
While the reasons behind the thefts are unclear, Zuver said they could be drug-related. He said motives can include using a vehicle as transportation to score drugs or as payment for drugs. The thieves may also sell valuables left inside the vehicles for drug money.
“They have a weakness or an illness or an addiction. That feeds their decision-making, and leads to bad choices,” Zuver said.
It could also be a case in which a vehicle is taken by a homeless person or a person without a valid driver’s license in order to visit friends in Ohio and Michigan. Or the thief may simply be looking for a joy ride.
And the vehicle thefts haven’t been limited to cars and trucks. On July 10, Sunny’s Campground, 12399 County Road 13, reported two secured golf carts missing. They have not been found. About a month prior, another golf cart was stolen from the campground, but authorities have identified a person of interest in that case.
Golf carts are currently hot commodities among thieves, and are often sold for parts.
Zuver said it’s important that county residents realize that rural living doesn’t guarantee their personal property is safe from criminals.
“People feel secure because it’s never happened to them before,” he said. “Crime can happen anywhere. It’s desperate people in desperate times.”
Car break-ins occurred in the Village of Lyons over the past couple of weeks. Acting on a tip, authorities caught Jeffrey Patterson, 22, Michael McGee, 28, and a 14-year-old juvenile in the act on July 7 at about 2:30 a.m. The adults were charged with one count each of criminal trespass, theft, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Two cars were stolen in Fayette within a day of one another. On July 3, at approximately 3 p.m., someone took a 1991 Ford Ranger parked behind Melody’s Bar on East Main Street; it has not been recovered. On July 4, a 1999 GMC Sonoma was taken at 10:30 a.m. at Circle K, also on East Main Street. It was found in Michigan a week later.
Fayette Police Sgt. Bob Bartz said they have been the only vehicles stolen in the village this year, but “If we have one a year, it’s a bad year.”
Most people leave their keys in their vehicle because they feel the area is safe, he said. “(The thieves are) just finding whatever is convenient. They’re taking advantage of the situation.”
Someone also rummaged through unlocked cars in the village July 3, although nothing of significant value was taken. Those cases are under investigation.
The rise in county car thefts could be due in part to the summer season, a time when the owners are more likely to leave the doors unlocked and the windows rolled down, Zuver said. And be certain the vehicle is parked under secure lighting, he added.
“The important thing is, people need to secure their vehicles, and not leave valuables. Take things out, don’t leave anything you can see through the window, and lock it,” he advised.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.