Leader of car theft ring gets 8-year prison term

January 10, 1995|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Columbia teen-ager who told police he could steal a car with just a screwdriver was sentenced to eight years in prison yesterday for leading a theft ring that took 20 vehicles last winter.

Christopher James Peca, an 18-year-old member of a car club called the Low Riders, was given the sentence after pleading guilty to 12 theft counts in Howard Circuit Court.

The prosecution contended that Peca and six other members of the Low Riders stole the vehicles, mostly four-wheel-drive Jeep Cherokees and Chevrolet Blazers, from East Columbia from Dec. 25, 1993, to Jan. 3, 1994.

Peca, of the 9300 block of Afternoon Lane in the Owen Brown village, was accused of stealing 12 of the vehicles and attempting to steal five others.

The prosecution asserted that Peca gave several stolen vehicles to his friends and showed some of the friends how to get cars on their own. Some vehicles were taken on joy-rides to Lake Elkhorn in Owen Brown, where the participants would play "crash-up derby" and "bumper cars," police said.

Assistant State's Attorney Daniel Vaccaro said he hoped that the case would cause "misguided youths" who wished to follow Peca's example to think twice.

"Stealing cars, wrecking cars and joy-riding is not glamorous indeed," Mr. Vaccaro said. "[Peca] certainly has a strong price to pay."

Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr. sentenced Peca to 23 years in prison but suspended all but eight years of the term. Peca must serve about two years before he is eligible for parole.

Peca was permitted to begin serving his sentence Feb. 3, to give him time to recover from surgery he recently had on his nose.

Judge Sybert ordered Peca to complete five years of probation upon his release from the state Department of Corrections. Peca, who works for a car-customizing business in Laurel, also must pay $6,256 in restitution to 17 victims.

Peca and his co-defendants were ordered to pay more than $28,000 in restitution for damage at Lake Elkhorn and to cover repairs on the stolen vehicles.

Yesterday, Peca apologized for his actions, noting that even restitution would not be enough to make up for the trouble and anguish he caused for the people whose cars were stolen.

Peca acknowledged that his actions would cause him to miss the first years in the life of his child, who is expected to be born next month. He added that he cut his ties with the other members of the Low Riders.

Peca's plea agreement comes a month after a judge denied a request by his attorney to prohibit the prosecution from using portions of his police confession in which he described how to steal cars. The prosecution intended to present the confession at Peca's trial, which was to start yesterday.

In the confession, Peca told police he used a screwdriver to pry open a vehicle's window and its steering column so he could get to the ignition wires and start the vehicle.

Peca is the last member of the Low Riders to appear in court. Four co-defendants have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to two years after accepting plea agreements. A fifth defendant who also agreed to a plea bargain is to be sentenced Thursday.

Another defendant, a 16-year-old boy, was prosecuted in juvenile court. The outcomes of juvenile cases are not disclosed.

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