'They were doing it for the thrill' Nine teens accused in car theft ring

June 05, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

It wasn't the need for transportation, but a desire to be part of a "cool" group that turned a handful of suburban Baltimore County teen-agers into a brazen gang that stole at least 35 expensive cars between February and May, county police said.

"They were doing it for the thrill," said Mark Carter, a Cockeysville precinct officer who helped crack the car theft ring. "It's not like they're poor kids."

Police arrested six teen-agers this week and said they expect to arrest three more soon.

Working in groups, thieves broke into and stole Honda Accords, Acura Legends and Jeep Cherokees. They drove the vehicles around for a while, wrecked, damaged or stripped at least four of them, then abandoned them, usually in a downtown Baltimore parking garage.

And they were slick, too.

After stealing some cars, the thieves would put a nonfunctioning Club" anti-theft bar on the steering wheel to ward off other potential thieves. They kept some cars for a few hours. They drove around in others for weeks, police said.

In the aftermath of the March 13 blizzard, they made a run on Jeep Cherokees with four-wheel drive so they could get around in the heavy snow, according to Officer Carter and Officer John T. Majka, the other policeman who investigated the thefts.

To avoid the appearance that the cars had been tampered with, the suspects purchased blank keys from hardware stores. After popping a car's ignition switch with a dent-puller, they would put the ignition block back in and the blank keys would start the car.

Some of the thieves became so brazen that they drove the stolen cars to Dulaney High School and parked them there while they attended class, the officers said.

"Some of them would even order a car," Officer Carter said. "The one guy would say, 'I like Honda Preludes.' So they went out and stole him a Honda Prelude."

"They said they didn't like to mess around with the alarms," Officer Majka said. "That's why they only stole Acuras that are a few years old, because the newer Acuras have alarms built in.

"They didn't like the Club, but they knew how to defeat it," he added. "They would bend the steering wheel, and it would pop off. Or they would just use the dent puller on it."

Most of the 35 cars that police have linked to the gang so far were snatched from the Cockeysville, Lutherville and Towson areas, but officers think the group may have been responsible for other thefts in White Marsh and other areas of eastern Baltimore County.

The two officers cracked the case after arresting a juvenile for an unrelated theft and burglary. "He thought he was being arrested for the theft of autos, so he started talking about those," Officer Majka said.

Police then arrested five other teen-agers and charged them with dozens of car thefts. Robert Cropper, 18, of Cockeysville and Chad DeVries III, 18, of Lutherville were charged as adults. The officers said they were seeking warrants to charge three additional teen-agers as adults in the car thefts.

According to the officers, the thieves began stealing cars for fun in February. One 18-year-old -- not yet charged -- began teaching the others how to break into cars, pop the ignitions and drive off.

The thieves developed a set of rules to avoid being caught.

"They didn't like red cars," Officer Majka said. "No bright colors, because they thought they drew too much attention. . . . They tried to steal only four-door cars, because that way, they could all get out of the car quickly."

The suspects worked in groups to quickly get into a car and get away. One would pry the driver's door open, and while another was popping the ignition switch, a third would bend the door back into place.

One of the hardest hit victims is Jennifer Sheehan, 23, of Cockeysville. Her 1992 Honda Accord LX was stolen Feb. 27. The thieves crashed the car into a telephone pole a week later, causing $7,000 in damage.

"When I got it back, I was wishing it didn't come back, because it looked so bad," Ms. Sheehan said. "It was upsetting and frustrating. I was really angry."

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