A 19-year-old Bluffton man has been charged, two cars were fished out of a pond Friday and authorities are looking for two other suspects in a string of car thefts in southern Beaufort County.
Demetrius Arroyo was arrested late Thursday by the Bluffton Police Department for allegedly setting fire to a camera used to photograph deer and other game at night at Pinecrest Golf Club, and during questioning, admitted to stealing or helping to steal 16 cars since late May, Lt. Joe Babkiewicz said.
Arroyo also helped guide officers to two other vehicles reported stolen from Bluffton subdivisions Wednesday that were submerged in a pond in the Wellstone of Bluffton development, Babkiewicz said.
On Friday, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office dive team retrieved from the pond a Mazda CX-7 stolen from Parkside at Baynard Park and a Subaru Outback stolen from The Haven.
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Sheriff's Office investigators said Arroyo, along with Kevin Alvarez, 17, of Bluffton and an unnamed juvenile, stole the vehicles. Most were left unlocked or with the keys nearby, taken on joyrides, then ditched, according to Sgt. Robin McIntosh of the Sheriff's Office. Many were stolen from gated communities, including Rose Hill, Moss Creek and Berkeley Hall. Authorities suspect the teens entered the communities on foot through nearby neighborhoods.
In all, authorities have received reports of 19 cars stolen since May 21. Babkiewicz said the teens are believe to have been responsible "the majority of the thefts."
Arroyo was charged with one count of arson for the camera and 16 counts of grand larceny for the cars, McIntosh said. He was being held Friday at the Beaufort County Detention Center awaiting a bond hearing.
If convicted, he could face five to 10 years on each count of grand larceny, according to state law.
Alvarez and the juvenile suspect had not been charged as of Friday evening.
SOME VICTIMS LUCKY, SOME NOT
Most of the stolen cars have been recovered, but at least two have not been found.
And like those found Friday in a pond, not all drivers who recovered their cars found them in good condition.
On June 5, the Sheriff's Office dive team also pulled a gray GMC Z71 pickup truck from a pond at Pinecrest Golf Club, where it had been abandoned after the suspect caused $15,000 in damage to the golf course.
Wayne Ross, who lives in Rose Hill Plantation, said his car had about $500 in damage, including a broken rearview mirror and scratches along the side, after it was stolen and recovered in the plantation on June 1.
"There was very little gas in it, and I think that might have saved it," Ross said.
Christian Noggle, whose Dodge Caravan was stolen in Sawmill Forest overnight Monday, said his minivan actually had more gas in it when it was found.
Most people weren't so lucky. Other vehicles were missing hundreds of dollars worth of items that had been left inside, including sports equipment, car accessories, wallets and bicycles strapped to the back, according to Sheriff's Office and Bluffton police reports.
Because Rose Hill has around-the-clock security, Ross never thought to lock his car when it was parked in the gated community.
But afer five cars were snatched from Rose Hill over the past several weeks, Ross said he's changed his ways.
"Now we lock it up like we live in a suburb," Ross said.
Jonathan Ruiz of Bluffton was getting ready to repair his company truck Monday in his garage when it started to pour.
He went inside, leaving the doors unlocked and the keys in the truck on quiet Lake Linden Drive.
He came back outside at about 4:30 a.m. to the sound of car alarms.
The noise was coming from a new pickup truck nearby that Ruiz later found out had been stolen from a nearby street and abandoned. Ruiz's truck, meanwhile, was nowhere to be found.
"Whoever took the new truck didn't get too far, and he must have bailed out when the alarms started going off," Ruiz said. "That's when he grabbed mine -- and all of this in the middle of a monsoon."