Teens charged in 4-wheel-drive thefts

January 14, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Staff Writer

Howard County police say they have tied the thefts of 20 four-wheel-drive vehicles since Christmas to a group of joy-riding Columbia teens who belong to an automobile club called the Low Riders.

Police have charged three members of the club in a recent incident in which two of the stolen vehicles were used for "four-wheeling" at Lake Elkhorn in Columbia's Owen Brown village.

Trails and a pavilion were destroyed, and the stolen vehicles were wrecked.

Police believe that from Christmas Day through last Saturday, members of the group were responsible for 20 thefts and six attempted thefts of vehicles in East Columbia. All of the stolen vehicles have been recovered.

Two 18-year-olds and a juvenile were arrested Sunday, and parents turned in another juvenile at police headquarters in Ellicott City Wednesday night. Police said they were preparing arrest warrants for several other group members yesterday.

Charges against the youths include unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, theft and destruction of property.

"We're trying to nip this thing as fast as we can," said Detective Tom Glorioso. Police hope to wrap up the investigation next week, he said.

About 15 East Columbia youths belong to the Low Riders club. Most members own sporty, decorated trucks that ride inches off the ground, according to Detective Glorioso.

Police suspect that eight of the group's members, whose ages range from 16 to 20, are responsible for the thefts.

"They raised all type of havoc when they did this," Detective Glorioso said. "One day they stole a four-wheel-drive, they enjoyed it and did it again. It excited them, and they started to do it more."

In addition to those arrested in the vehicle thefts, police say, another juvenile was arrested on unrelated charges uncovered during the theft investigation. Police say yet another suspect may have left the state to avoid arrest on theft charges.

The theft victims include Richard Keller of Columbia, whose 1993 Jeep Cherokee was stolen from the 4900 block of Dorsey Hall Drive on Christmas night.

Police found the car the next morning, before Mr. Keller knew it had disappeared. It had sustained $3,000 in damage, its front end had been smashed, and there was grass and mud on its tires and white paint on its hood.

"They must have gone through hell and high water," Mr. Keller, recalling the damage to his vehicle.

Police said the thefts of the four-wheel-drive vehicles began when snow fell on Christmas Day. The thefts continued as ice and snow coated the area in the ensuing weeks.

The latest arrest came Wednesday night, when police charged and released to parental custody a juvenile they say was a frequent passenger during the joy rides.

Sunday, police arrested two 18-year-olds and a juvenile on charges of stealing two Jeep Cherokees from the Owen Brown area Saturday morning.

Alexi Martinez of the 9300 block of Gentle Folk was released on $10,000 bond; Adam Matthew Fattori of the 8900 block of Blade Green was released on $20,000 bond.

The 16-year-old who accompanied the two 18-year-olds was released into parental custody.

Police said the vehicles were driven over rough terrain at Lake Elkhorn, destroying parts of a pavilion and a fitness course there.

After the joy ride, police said, the vehicles were pushed into the lake, where they were later recovered.

"We're taking our time with this one," Detective Glorioso said. "It's a big case."

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