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Golf cart used as getaway vehicle in island heists

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of November 3, 2011)

The scene wasn't from a Hollywood movie script, where the robbers race off in souped-up coupes.

Here on the island, where crime seldom disturbs the beachside tranquility, a thief or thieves used City Council member Tracy Carroll's stolen golf cart to roam the quiet oak-lined streets of the Central Beach area, burglarizing cars, and in two cases, entering homes where the occupants were sleeping.

Residents reported 11 burglaries to police between Thursday and Sunday, although most were committed sometime between Saturday night and early Sunday when Carroll’s golf cart was stolen. Burglaries were reported on Indian River Drive, Live Oak, Conn Way, Shore Drive, Shoreland Drive, Sunset Drive, Fiddlewood Road and Holly Road.

In one case, a home was robbed of valuable jewelry including a Rolex watch while the couple slept. In another, the owners of a home on Shoreland Drive slept as thieves got into their house and stole a laptop and $15 in cash. In a third case, dogs chased off burglars who had cut the screen to an enclosed pool area and were using garden furniture to try and get into the house.

“Those dogs have been eating New York strip and Burger King burgers ever since,” said Holly Road resident Laurie Armour.

The rash of burglaries is far from the norm on the island. According to a crime report database, the Vero Beach Police Department reported only 18 cars or structures broken into between May 1 and Sept. 26 in the Central Beach area.  The largest number of those occurred in June when seven people reporting burglaries.

Of last weekend’s 11 cases, seven of the burglaries involved unlocked vehicles, said Lt. Matt Harrelson of the Vero Beach Police Department.  “Eleven? What in the hell is going on?” said Richard Rogers, a Central Beach resident who moved here from Maryland a few years ago.

Carroll’s golf cart was recovered with some of the stolen property still on board. Carroll told Vero Beach 32963 that police recovered laptops, money and cellphones from her golf cart. 

Rogers said that while he doesn’t wish a crime on anyone, maybe because a politician is now a victim, police will step up patrols.  “Maybe this will get something done,” he said.

Rogers’ Indian River Drive home was broken into two years ago when someone kicked in a door and stuffed jewelry into a pillow case before racing off.  As far as Rogers knows, his case is still open. 

“It makes me mad,” he said.

Now, he’s active in the area’s Neighborhood Watch Program, but he said more needs to be done.

Police say they patrol the area but the number one thing residents can do is to be vigilant at all times. That means keeping doors and windows to homes and vehicles locked.

Crime is everyone’s problem, said Capt. Keith Touchberry.

“This isn’t a normal thing,” said Armour. “This is bad, bad bad. I hope they punish them to the full extent of the law.”

Just a few weeks ago, Armour said the American flag that was her now deceased father’s personal flag was stolen from her boat dock.

“I’m telling you, that was bolted down in place so much so that a tornado couldn’t get that off,” she said.

Although she didn’t call the police about the missing flag, the theft still stings.  “That’s when it really gets to you. It’s personal. You can never replace something like that -- your father’s flag.”

In the case of Carroll’s golf cart, police say the thieves went into her unlocked car on Live Oak and found her garage door opener. They then broke into a storage trailer she uses for her design work and headed off with her golf cart.

“We need to catch these suckers now,” said Rogers.