Police investigating rash of smash-and-grabs in St. Augustine Beach

3 vehicle break-ins happened Monday near pier, Ocean Hammock Park, police say

ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. – There's a neighborhood crime alert in St. Johns County, where St. Augustine Beach police are investigating three vehicle break-ins.

They happened Monday near the St. Augustine Beach Pier and at Ocean Hammock Park. Investigators also believe at least two of the three break-ins are related.  

A day after, shattered glass could still be seen at Ocean Hammock Park off A1A. It's a secluded, wooded area, which is one reason why police believe thieves may have targeted cars there.

Tracy Cowden was on vacation from Tennessee with her husband and friend when she said someone smashed through her rental car’s windows and took her purse, keys, IDs and money, as well as her husband’s medicine.

"Hindsight is 20/20," Cowden told News4Jax on Tuesday. "I had a little bit of a bad feeling, maybe we shouldn’t be parking there because it was so shaded and people hide."

Their trip was cut short by the break-in. 

"My husband had been sick for a long time and this was the first vacation (in) like five years that we are able to make," Cowden said.

Cowden was frustrated that she had to go back to Tennessee to get replace what was stolen.

"It wasn’t just money and debit cards and our IDs. It was things like medications and things that we have to have. And things that you can’t replace," she said. "I had my grandchildren‘s pictures in there. And I had an SD memory card that was full of pictures."

According to the St. Augustine Beach Police Department, a couple from California also had hundreds of dollars' worth of items stolen around the same time. 

"That smash-and-grab takes (it) up to an extra level," said Cmdr. Thomas Ashlock, with the Police Department. "That's just an extra intent that someone goes to to try to ruin someone's vacation."

Ashlock was patrolling the area Tuesday as officers hope DNA swabs and fingerprints will lead them to the thieves. 

"We’re going to go to the fullest extent to try to catch the people who are responsible for this. Spare no expense, we’re gonna step up patrols here at Ocean Hammock Park," Ashlock said.

There was a third car break-in near the St. Augustine Beach Pier. That victim told News4Jax by phone that he had his windows cracked just a little bit when it happened. He said he's never going to make that mistake again. 

Ashlock advises you to either leave valuables at home or put them in the trunk. Make sure that your vehicle is locked. He also wants to remind you if you see anything suspicious, call police right away.

According to the Police Department, auto burglaries are relatively rare in St. Augustine Beach. In the last six months, there have been 12, but police said Monday was the only time when crooks broke the windows. 

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