Teen to be tried as adult in thefts of 23 vehicles

March 06, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Columbia teen-ager, alleged to be the leader of an auto theft gang, will be prosecuted as an adult on charges that he stole 23 four-wheel-drive vehicles in December and January.

The case against Christopher James Peca, 17, of the 9300 block of Afternoon Lane in Oakland Mills village, was transferred from juvenile court during a hearing Friday. He was expected to be indicted in Howard Circuit Court.

Howard prosecutors say Mr. Peca has a history of teaching other youths how to steal vehicles.

"He's a guru to these kids in Howard County," said Assistant State's Attorney Bobbie Fine, who prosecutes juvenile cases. "Kids look up to him. . . . I want them to know, hey, look what happened to your leader."

Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Osterman, who represented Mr. Peca at Friday's hearing, declined to comment on the case.

Mr. Peca, who is about one month away from his 18th birthday, is charged with 23 counts of theft, 23 counts of unauthorized use of a vehicle and 21 counts of destruction of property.

If convicted of all charges, he could be sentenced to at least 437 years in prison.

Mr. Peca, whose juvenile record goes back several years, has boasted that he can steal a car within 20 seconds, Ms. Fine said. Details of Mr. Peca's juvenile record are unavailable because those cases are sealed to the public.

Ms. Fine estimates that juveniles are responsible for about 80 percent of the vehicles stolen in Howard.

A total of 2,008 vehicles were stolen in the county in 1993 and 1992, according to police statistics.

The prosecutor noted that she handled one case last week involving two 12-year-old boys, the youngest defendants she has seen accused of stealing a car.

Mr. Peca is one of five Columbia teen-agers charged with stealing the four-wheel-drive vehicles between Christmas and Jan. 8, police say. They are members of a club called the Low Riders, known for driving sporty, modified low-riding trucks.

The other suspects include Keith Richard Burton, 18, of the 8900 block of Footed Ridge; Alexi Martinez, 18, of the 9300 block of Gentle Folk; Adam Matthew Fattori, 18, of the 8900 block of Blade Green; and a 16-year-old whose case is in juvenile court.

The adults are scheduled for Howard District Court trials in May.

The vehicles, including Jeep Cherokees and Chevrolet Blazers, were stolen from neighborhoods on the east side of Columbia and then taken on joy rides, police said.

The rides often culminated in a trip to Lake Elkhorn in Columbia's Owen Brown village, about a mile from Mr. Peca's home, where the participants would play what they called "crash-up derby" and "bumper cars," according to police.

Police allege that those involved have wrecked at least eight of the stolen vehicles at Lake Elkhorn and caused about $12,000 in property damage at the park.

District Court records show Mr. Peca is scheduled for trials as an adult on Friday and on April 14 in two unrelated cases.

In Friday's case, Mr. Peca is charged with theft and unauthorized use of a vehicle. An International delivery truck loaded with about $25,000 in kitchen cabinets and appliances was stolen on Aug. 28.

Mr. Peca, who worked for the company that owned the truck, told police that he stole the vehicle because he needed transportation, court records say.

He could be sentenced to 19 years in prison if convicted of those charges.

In the second case, Mr. Peca is charged with assaulting a man by pointing a semiautomatic handgun at him on June 5.

He could be sentenced to 20 years in prison if found guilty of the charges.

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