Bluffton car break-ins subside over weekend; suspects in custody

astice@islandpacket.comFebruary 13, 2012 

A wave of car break-ins in the Bluffton area that most recently included 23 vehicles in The Farm at Buckwalter Place quieted this weekend, and Bluffton police say that could be because the thieves already are in custody for similar crimes.

Loose change and small electronic devices -- iPods, GPS units and car radios -- were taken from 23 unlocked cars at The Farm. Most of the victims discovered the break-ins Friday morning as they prepared to leave for work.

Two unlocked cars also were raided in Eagle's Pointe, in Beaufort County Sheriff's Office territory, at about the same time, according to incident reports.

Those break-ins followed similar reports the week before: About 10 unlocked cars in Bluffton's Wellstone and Pinecrest communities were ransacked for small items, purses and cash between Feb. 2 and 3, according to reports. Bluffton investigators are preparing to interview suspects that other law enforcement agencies have arrested for similar crimes. However, bringing charges might be difficult because authorities lack serial numbers for electronic devices that were stolen from vehicles in Bluffton, Bluffton Police Department spokesman Sgt. Joe Babkiewicz said.

PORT ROYAL BREAK-INS

Officers with the Port Royal Police Department arrested three men Friday morning for breaking into vehicles and homes in the Port Royal Landings subdivision, said Port Royal Lt. Ron Wekenmann.

Gregory Edwards, 19, and Collin McGovern, 21, of Hilton Head Island and Robert Hunt, 20, of Beaufort were caught on surveillance camera at a nearby boat landing breaking in to a houseboat, Wekenmann said. Police say the three men -- identifiable because they were wearing the same clothing -- were also captured on security video at a local convenience store after the burglary.

"If they steal petty cash, we assume they're going to use it to buy alcohol or food," Wekenmann said. "We view footage randomly from all of the convenience stores -- that's pretty standard for us."

A search warrant of a Port Royal apartment the three men were renting yielded several of the items reported stolen in the Port Royal break-ins, but nothing from Bluffton vehicles, Wekenmann said.

However, the three men were arrested Friday morning after partying in Bluffton on Thursday night, giving investigators "a hunch" they may be involved in the crimes there, Wekenmann said.

A 19-year-old Bluffton man, arrested Friday and charged with receiving stolen goods, also is a suspect in Hilton Head Plantation break-ins and perhaps other area burglaries, according to Beaufort County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh.

No car break-ins have been reported since Friday, Babkiewicz said.

"We are still actively investigating it, but we haven't had another incident since those individuals' arrests," Babkiewicz said.

Bluffton police advise residents to stop the crime before it happens by locking their car doors and bringing valuables inside with them when they get home.

Pat Shelley of Crossings Boulevard in Bluffton's Wellstone community said she and her husband, Robert, learned their lesson when their Garmin GPS was stolen from their unlocked car parked in their driveway.

"We're not going to let that happen again," she said.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.

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