February 12, 2014

Haltom City police make arrests in “warm-up” auto thefts

Auto task force detectives estimate that the suspects stole 11 vehicles on cold days.

The “warm-up” gang is in the cooler.

Three suspects were in custody Wednesday, accused of stealing at least 11 vehicles that were left idling and unattended in driveways in Haltom City and north Fort Worth on recent cold mornings.

The suspects abandoned the vehicles after stealing items inside such as electronic equipment, smartphones, wallets and purses, police said.

Christopher Tolbert, 26, Charles Sours, 20, and Jessica Bell, 23, all of Haltom City, face charges of theft between $100,000 to $200,000 and engaging in organized crime. They were in the North Richland Hills Jail Wednesday with bail set at $75,000 each.

The three could also be linked to storage unit burglaries, detectives said.

Haltom City police arrested the suspects last week.

“A Haltom City officer spotted the girl driving a reported stolen car,” said Arlington police Detective Jesse Minton, who is assigned to the Tarrant Regional Auto Crimes Task Force. “She was arrested after a brief chase. About the same time, the two male suspects were spotted in Haltom City in another reported stolen vehicle.”

Area detectives noted that overall crime rates tend to decrease in cold months, but each January and February, “warm-up” thefts resurface as temperatures drop. Several North Texas law enforcement agencies have reported such thefts.

“These are simply crimes of opportunity,” said Arlington police Sgt. Matt Pedersen, who is assigned to task force. “During the colder months, more citizens are putting themselves at risk by warming up their vehicles and leaving them unattended, unsupervised. The steam from a vehicle’s exhaust in cold weather makes it easy for thieves to spot potential targets and to take advantage.

“The discomfort of the cold weather does not begin to compare to the discomfort of being an auto theft victim.”

In the Haltom City and north Fort Worth cases, the suspects began targeting unattended vehicles at the end of January. They targeted all types of vehicles — cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles.

By state law, vehicles cannot be left running and unattended on public streets, highways or alleys. An Arlington ordinance adds commercial parking lots to the state law. Private driveways are not covered.

“It’s hard to say how much of an effect [the ordinance] has had,” Minton said. “But it’s a tool that we use as often as we can.”

The auto crimes task force joined the investigation when Haltom City detectives determined that more than one person was involved in auto thefts in several Tarrant County cities. The Tarrant Regional Auto Crimes Task Force comprises officers from 12 different agencies in Tarrant, Parker, Wise, Hood, Palo Pinto, Jack and Somervell counties.

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