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Officer: On 'whim,' 4 rob cars

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 25, 2000


TAMPA -- Four teenagers with no history of criminal behavior decided "on a whim" to break into cars in two northwest Hillsborough subdivisions early Monday, deputies said, and made quite a haul before being caught.

Deputies said the teens admitted to smashing windows on several cars in Westchase and Fawn Ridge, and opening unlocked doors on others to take cameras, several mobile phones, fishing equipment, jewelry, medicine, compact discs, a car vacuum, garage door openers, golf balls and more.

"These are smart kids, academically," said Hillsborough sheriff's Detective C.K. Sugarek, who added that three of the four live in the Palma Ceia area of South Tampa and that all four appear to "come from good homes."

One of them told her his SAT score was 1370 and he was worried that the arrest would affect scholarship offers.

"These are not my normal thugs," she said. "One of them was upset his mother was crying."

Deputies charged the two 17-year-olds, as well as Christopher Bernard, 18, and William Jenkins, 19, of Tampa with multiple counts of auto burglary, petty theft and criminal mischief.

Jail records on Monday showed Jenkins, who attends Florida State University, was being held on $3,000 bail. Bernard, whose occupation was listed as a student, was being held on $3,500 bail.

Sugarek said that shortly after a newspaper carrier reported a suspicious car in Westchase, Deputy Robert Whittaker pulled over the described Nissan at Linebaugh Avenue and Sheldon Road at about 3 a.m.

When he checked the tag number, he saw that the tag been reported stolen in Tampa sometime earlier.

The teens later told authorities they had stolen the tag and put it on the car, which belonged to one of their parents. The youths told her they did not intend to sell anything they stole, Sugarek said, but were simply going to keep it all. "They were shopping," she said.

Eight deputies spent Monday morning taking reports from Westchase and Fawn Ridge residents, many of whom then made trips to the sheriff's District III office near Citrus Park Town Center mall to claim their stolen possessions.

Many were surprised they had become victims of crime.

Westchase resident Reed Baker said he always figured his shiny red 1995 Acura would be stolen or broken into sooner or later, he just thought it would happen in Atlanta, where he lived for two years before coming to Tampa.

Baker said he and his family just moved to Westchase in the past few weeks, and that they did not hear any noise Monday until a deputy rang their doorbell at 3:30 a.m. to tell them their car had been burglarized.

"All the doors were open, the trunk was open and the window was smashed," said Baker, who was still trying to determine Monday afternoon what items were taken from the car.

Despite the surprise, the burglary does not make him think less of his new neighborhood, Baker said.

"That kind of stuff happens anywhere you go."


-- Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3474 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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