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Businesses burglarized – Break-ins tied to Fla. luxury car theft

Atmore police are investigating a string of business burglaries and attempted burglaries that occurred here late Friday or early Saturday (January 27 or 28) and included the theft of a vehicle from a local dealership, a crime that is apparently connected to auto thefts and break-ins in two Florida cities.

Police reports show that more than one suspect broke into Johnson Ford on South Main Street and Chuck Stevens Chevrolet on East Nashville Avenue. The duo is also suspected of trying to break into Dollar Tree, Baber’s Rent to Own and Advance America Cash Advance, all on Lindberg Avenue. The activation of burglar alarms at each of those businesses apparently forced them to abort that part of their criminal mission.

Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks said Monday that the crime spree came to light shortly after sunrise Saturday, when an employee of Johnson Ford called police to report that a break-in had occurred there.

“Our officers responded and discovered numerous items scattered about and broken glass on the floor,” Brooks said. “They found that someone had come through a window to the business office and that all the offices inside that section had been gone through.”

Brooks said the culprits made away with “a very small amount of cash, some electronics and a vehicle” from Johnson Ford.

Discovery of the vehicle theft was the first in a series of events that indicated the individuals responsible for stealing the Ford pickup had apparently committed similar crimes in Pensacola and Tallahassee.

“While our officers were still at the Ford place, we got a call from an employee of Chuck Stevens that a break-in had also occurred there,” Brooks said.

An employee of the Chevrolet dealership said nothing was taken in that burglary, although the intruders tried unsuccessfully to open the company safe. Police were still at that location when the stolen vehicle story got more interesting.

“During that investigation, we got a call that an SUV with no tag was sitting beside Greenland Road in Walnut Hill,” the police chief said. “That turned out to be a Porsche Cayenne Hybrid. There was a small pry bar lying near it.”

A check of the Porsche’s VIN revealed that authorities in Tallahassee had recently placed a lookout for the luxury vehicle, which was stolen there and which carries a sticker price of $78,700.

Meanwhile, officials of Sandy Sansing BMW in Pensacola called to report that a pickup belonging to Johnson Ford had been discovered on the lot of that dealership, which had also been burglarized overnight. A BMW 500 Series sedan valued at more than $50,000 was stolen from there.

Brooks and an official of the local Ford dealership went to Pensacola to bring the stolen truck back. While there, they viewed surveillance video that revealed the perpetrators to be “two individuals dressed all in black, wearing ski masks and gloves.” The burglars searched the Florida dealer’s business office in much the same manner as they did at Johnson Ford.

“It appears they were looking, here and there, for money or for items they could sell quickly,” said Brooks, who added that authorities believe that the same individuals were involved in all the burglaries.

“It looks like they would purposely go to dealerships and switch cars in order to try and throw us off their trail,” he said. “We feel like it’s the same folks in each case; it’s just too odd that it wouldn’t be.”

He added that evidence collected at the crime scenes, including a piece of clothing found in one of the stolen vehicles, could eventually lead to the arrest of those responsible for the crimes.

“The investigation is ongoing,” he said. “Hopefully, the evidence collected at the scenes and in the cars will help us catch them. We’ve sent it all to the crime lab and we’re waiting on the results.”

Anyone having information that could help expedite the investigation is urged to call APD’s Criminal Investigations Division at 251-368-9141.