Leave no valuables behind

Leave no valuables behind

Savannah Whitmer, Lead Reporter

In recent weeks, there has been a rise in the number of car break-ins in North Texas. The increase has been attributed to a Florida-based theft organization called the “Felony Lane Gang” that has allegedly migrated to North Texas and other areas such as Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

Among the growing number of victims, Lovejoy ISD dyslexia therapist Donna Nelson recently had her car window smashed and items stolen outside Hart Elementary.

“I have taught for many years and been in that parking lot hundreds of times,” Nelson said. “I parked by the library between two cars close to the classroom I was going into. I knew I was going to be carrying back workbooks, so left my handbag, locked my car, and went into the building for about twenty minutes. When I went back out, I unlocked the door, and saw glass on passenger seat. At first I didn’t think it was my car! Then I saw that nothing was in seat where I had left my handbag. I knew what had happened then. I got this weird scary feeling and ran back into building. I called 911 using someone else’s phone, because mine was stolen.”

The Felony Lane Gang acquired their name from their theft tactics, which include smashing car windows, stealing valuables such as purses, and using the ID to cash in checks at the far lane, or felony lane, of a bank. Often, members are known to go so far as to dress up as the women, using props like wigs.

The operation is known for targeting wealthy areas and places where people are likely to park their cars and leave them unlocked.

“They’re out at the pool, out at the gym, out at the movie theater,” Sgt. John Felty, an Allen Police Department spokesman said. “Out at places where their vehicles can be victimized.”

Counselor Amanda Breeden, who drops off her children every day at Little Leopards, located at Hart Elementary, has recently changed her habits as a result of the thefts.

“I’ve done things differently since hearing about the break-ins,” Breeden said. “Lately I’ve been taking extra precautions by locking my car, which I didn’t do before, making sure I have my phone with me, and by hiding things under seats, just where things aren’t left out in the open.”

However, these strategies may prove to be ineffective.

“According to Plano Police, the usual tactics of taking your keys, locking your vehicle and hiding any valuables you leave behind doesn’t always work,” Assistant ISD Superintendent for operations Dennis Womack said. “You may have seen on the local news recently, the new trend in vehicle smash and grab thefts is for the thieves to watch their victims, who are primarily women. When they see you get out of your vehicle without your purse, they strike.”

In Nelson’s case, security cameras revealed the criminals tracking her car.

“Dennis Womack looked on security cameras and saw a car following mine,” Nelson said. “And we know that they saw me leaving without my handbag, which is why they broke into my car.”

Plano police, working with the FBI, used surveillance to arrest 16 individuals suspected to be in connection to the thefts in July.  Despite this, North Texas residents, especially women, are advised to be more cautious about the items they leave in the car.

“If we have information that we have individuals we believe are a part of the Felony Lane Gang, we’re doing surveillance on them,” Plano police spokesman David Tilley said in an interview with NBC5. “They don’t even know we are watching them.”

Common items stolen include some valuable objects and usually a purse.

“Mostly, it was a hassle, because I had to replace all of my things,” Nelson said. “My prescription eyeglasses, my telephone, and the gift cards in my purse, as well as my license. The easiest thing to do was to cancel my credit card. But I only had fifteen dollars in cash. I guess they could have resold my phone, too. The thing I miss the most is my calendar! We’ve had to replace the window glass, too, which was expensive.”

To avoid becoming a victim of the recurring thefts, law enforcement authorities say it’s important to not only lock your car and take any valuables with you, but to be observant of your surroundings as well.

“The important thing is that no one was hurt,” Nelson said. “I’ll be very careful from now on about leaving things in the car. I think more people will be careful also, and you have to look around to be sure that no one’s watching you. My suggestion is that everybody should be aware, so that bad guys don’t take away any more stuff from anybody at school or anywhere else.”