Deputies: Smash-and-grab burglars target women in St. Johns County
Felony Lane Gang tactic used in trio of break-ins, Sheriff's Office says
ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – There's a neighborhood crime alert in St. Johns County, where deputies warned women that thieves are watching them and going straight for their cars.
"Anything where a female may leave the purse in the car, they are there," St. Johns County Sheriff's Office spokesman Chuck Mulligan said Tuesday. "They are watching from a distance. It may be across the street and if you get out of the car and walk away and they see that your shoulder your purse is not over your shoulder, then they are going to look at your car as a possible opportunity for criminal action."
The warning comes after three smash-and-grab break-ins were reported Monday morning outside a St. Johns County gym. Deputies said the same tactic was used as the Felony Lane Gang, a traveling group based out of South Florida that has hit numerous places nationwide.
According to the Sheriff's Office, three women left Orange Theory Fitness in the Johns Creek Plaza on County Road 210, just west of Interstate 95, about 7 a.m. Monday and found that their cars had been burglarized. Deputies said burglars smashed through three car windows, getting away with purses, wallets, IDs, credit cards and even a cellphone.
Deputies noted that the cars were parked beyond the range of surveillance.
Karrie Cheal was one of the victims.
"You get that sick feeling in your stomach like, you know, your world kind of has turned upside down at the moment because they have everything," Cheal told News4Jax by phone on Tuesday.
The Sheriff's Office said the break-ins used the Felony Lane Gang tactic, in which crooks target places where women don't need their purse -- including parks, day cares, churches, sporting events and gyms.
"These individuals are sitting in a parking lot somewhere," Mulligan said. "They are watching."
Gymgoer Denise McGuier said she never imagined that somebody could be watching her as she's walking into the gym.
"It is unsettling," she said.
According to investigators, once the cars burglars get a hold of personal information, they'll max out credit cards and empty out bank accounts using different wigs to impersonate different victims.
"That’s incredibly scary. Here I am thinking it’s just some kid wanting some fast cash for Christmas money or whatever and it’s this organized crime thing going on," Cheal said. "Not in 1 million years would I think that and it's just creepy, scary."
On Tuesday, shattered glass could still be seen on the ground and a sign, reminding people to take valuables out of their cars, could be seen posted on the front door of the gym.
The Sheriff’s Office also recommended that you always take your purse out of your car and, if you’re someplace where you’re not going to need it, bring something small, such as a clutch, that you can keep on you at all times.
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