Rash of home, car break-ins hits Forest Beach area

bheffernan@islandpacket.comJuly 19, 2013 

A sign, photographed on Friday in the Coligny Beach parking lot along South Forest Beach Drive, warns beachgoers to secure their valuables. About 25 thefts, from car break-ins to home burglaries, have occurred in the past week in the South Forest Beach area.

JAY KARR — Jay Karr Buy Photo

Alarms shouldn't go off at 5:30 a.m. when you're on vacation.

Worse yet for Steven Longenecker, the alarm that awakened him Wednesday was coming from his car.

Longenecker, vacationing from Hummelstown, Pa., and staying in the Forest Beach area of Hilton Head Island, said he discovered about $5,600 worth of damage to his Ford Explorer.

Thieves had broken his SUV's computer system, shattered a window and tore his center console "to shreds," he said.

Longenecker wasn't the only one to wake up to bad news that morning in the popular tourist area.

Break-ins have come in bunches lately on North and South Forest Beach. Four car break-ins were reported between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, and seven burglaries were reported last weekend, according to Beaufort County Sheriff's Office reports.

Sgt. Robin McIntosh of the Sheriff's Office said property crimes, such as burglaries and car break-ins, "come in cycles" on the island, and areas heavily populated with tourists are often the main targets.

Thefts of small items -- smartphones, laptops and purses -- tend to increase during summer months in neighborhoods where condos and short-term rentals are common, McIntosh said.

Thieves notice when guests move in and out of the rooms frequently and when they are not careful to lock doors, she said.

"We'll get a rash of them all at once, and it's usually one person or a group of people," she said. "That may be what we're dealing with here."

McIntosh said investigators are approaching the crimes as if they are related.

Sheriff P.J. Tanner said investigators have "persons of interest" for many of them.

He said extra patrols have been added to the Forest Beach neighborhoods in the past few weeks.

Summer is a busy time in that area, he said. "There's a lot of people moving at all times of the day and night."

Some homeowners in the neighborhood are trying to fight back.

They are reminding people about the importance of locking doors, and they're just being neighborly, said Eleanor O'Key, co-chairwoman of the North and South Forest Beach neighborhood watch group, which formed last fall.

Despite the recent break-ins, O'Key says she feels safe among her neighbors.

"We get together, and we know what the other one is doing, and if somebody is not out walking their dog, we want to know why," she said. "That's how a neighborhood watch works. It's just a social organization."

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian

Related content:

Hilton Head Island crime watch goes street-level, Feb. 18, 2013

Alarmed at rising crime, Forest Beach starts neighborhood watch, Oct. 27, 2012

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