An investigation into ongoing incidents involving stolen cars and thefts from unlocked vehicles is intensifying after the fraudulent use of a credit card taken from a Westerly resident led officers to discover gas station surveillance footage showing suspects filling up recently stolen cars at a Dunn’s Corners gas station last week.
Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said his agency is taking the matter very seriously, especially given recent incidents in surrounding towns, and has made considerable progress in the past few weeks to identify both techniques and patterns used by the suspects. Those involved are believed to come from central Connecticut, and multiple stolen cars have since been recovered from towns in the greater Hartford area.
“One aspect that has been the same, not a single vehicle was broken into,” Lacey said. “In every case, the vehicle was unlocked and the keys were left inside in instances where the car was stolen.”
Police in surrounding communities including Hopkinton, Stonington and Groton have all reported a rise in reported overnight thefts from cars over the past week now. In Stonington, police said that during the overnight hours Sunday into Monday, at least 30 vehicles were entered and items taken from Castle Hill Road and surrounding neighborhoods. Another car, which had the keys in it, was stolen.
Stonington Police Capt. Todd Olson said Monday that there was evidence of breaking and entering, noting that victims had left their cars unlocked in every case. The incidents marked the largest number reported in a single night and led the department to renew calls for Stonington residents to remove all valuables and lock their vehicles whenever possible, but especially overnight.
Hopkinton police issued their own statement Monday afternoon on Facebook, reporting several incidents Sunday into Monday that were reported in the Diamond Hill Road, Juniper Drive and Bayberry Drive neighborhoods in Ashaway.
“The suspects are targeting unlocked vehicles after 3 a.m. Other nearby towns have also seen an increase both in Rhode Island and Connecticut,” the department wrote. “Typically, if the suspects are not from the area, there will be a vehicle waiting nearby. Keep an eye out for your neighbors and report anything suspicious.”
Lacey said Tuesday that his agency also had reports of three or four possible thefts from cars Sunday into Monday. The department had a number of incidents on Sept. 8 as well — there were 12 report of thefts from unlocked cars and three reports of stolen vehicles that day from the Weekapaug and Dunn's Corners area, according to police data — but officers have since been able to recover each of the stolen cars and connect the theft of a credit card from an unlocked car to the three thefts.
According to Lacey, a tracking system in a stolen 2019 Dodge Durango led officers to find the SUV in New Britain. The other two stolen vehicles were also recovered in that area as well.
Before returning home following the early morning thefts, Lacey said the suspects used a card stolen from one car at a Dunn’s Corners gas station in order to fill up both a suspect vehicle and all three cars that were stolen that night. The footage showed the stop lasted about 12 minutes, and the credit card was later used at gas stations in Groton and New Haven, allowing police to track the movement of at least one of the suspects, he said.
The department has also worked to share their information with surrounding agencies, and he said law enforcement across the region is committed to working together to bring the string of thefts to an end. He said in the meantime, he urges residents to make sure they protect themselves and their property.
“If a key is stolen from a car parked outside your home, it could mean they have access to your house. Even if they don’t, replacing a key system is likely to run you upwards of $1,500, otherwise you are in a position where they could return and take it at any point,” he said. “The easiest thing to do to protect yourself is to remove valuables, take the keys out of the car and lock it up.”