Thieves target homes using garage openers

January 24, 1995|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

While most Howard County residents wouldn't give strangers their house keys, police say that's what many of them do by leaving garage door openers in cars parked outside.

In the past three months, burglars have stolen items from at least six homes by taking advantage of residents' carelessness.

Burglaries in the county declined in the first nine months of 1994. And though just seven burglaries using the garage opener method were reported last year -- four in Columbia, two in Ellicott City and one in North Laurel -- police warn that the number will increase unless residents change their habits.

"When you leave a garage opener in your car, it's almost like leaving a key to your house," said Sgt. Steve Keller, Howard County police spokesman and a former burglary detective.

"People tend to become lax sometimes in not locking car doors," he said. "A lock is not a lock unless it's locked."

In most cases, police say, thieves open the garage and hide while waiting to see whether anyone responds to the sound of the door opening. If no one appears, they rush in and grab what they can, occasionally venturing into occupied homes if an inside door to the home is left open.

David Earle of the 8100 block of Sea Light Lane in Columbia's Long Reach village says his home was entered twice by thieves using an opener left outside.

In mid-November, while several guests gathered in his home to celebrate the birth of his child, someone entered his unlocked Jeep Wagoneer and pressed the electronic garage door opener inside.

The intruder then walked into the garage, climbed two steps leading to a laundry room next to the kitchen and took a purse belonging to Mr. Earle's wife. He said 10 people were gathered just five feet from the intruder.

"In all the chaos we didn't hear a thing," Mr. Earle said.

A neighbor found the purse on nearby Tamar Drive, but it was missing cash, he said.

Then, between 4 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. Dec. 18, while the Earles were in Pennsylvania, their garage was entered again and son Brady's red, 16-inch Schwinn bike was taken.

In each burglary, tools and other valuables were left untouched, Mr. Earle said.

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