Fifteen vehicles have been stolen in Beaufort and Jasper counties since March and recovered elsewhere in the region, most of them with broken windows and missing equipment and property, according to Hardeeville Police Chief Sam Woodward.
Woodward said suspects are using the cars to commit break-ins in various neighborhoods so they can ditch the vehicles if they're spotted by witnesses or law enforcement.
Deveon Chaneyfield, 18, of Ridgeland was charged Tuesday with one vehicle theft after he was pulled over for speeding in Hardeeville while driving a stolen work van, according to a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office report.
Chaneyfield told Hardeeville police his cousin gave him the white van, the report said. The report said Chaneyfield was "extremely nervous" and would not name the cousin. However, the officer called the number on the side of the van and reached its owner, who confirmed his $7,000 vehicle was missing from his Hilton Head Island home and his SUV had been rummaged through.
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Less than a half mile from the owner's home on Old Wild Horse Road, officers recovered another vehicle which had been stolen in Hardeeville, according to reports. Chaneyfield was not charged in connection with that theft or any of the other recent thefts. Police continue to look for other suspects, Woodward said.
The Carmore Acres and Sunset Circle communities in Hardeeville have been hit by break-ins. So have Oldfield Mews in Okatie, and Rivers End, The Willows and The Lakes at Myrtle Park in Bluffton, according to Woodward and Sgt. Robin McIntosh of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
Most of the vehicles have been recovered in wooded areas or parking lots, Woodward said, like a gold Dodge Stratus found in the parking lot of the Cross Island Medical Center on Hilton Head Island. The car's owner told deputies he spotted the vehicle by chance while working on the island. The $5,000 car was missing its hubcaps but nothing else, according to the report.
One vehicle was found Wednesday dumped in the New River in Jasper County, according to authorities. A passerby saw the $20,000 white Chevrolet Avalanche, which had been stolen in Oldfield Mews overnight Sunday, partially submerged near the New River Bridge at 4:40 p.m., according to Maj. Donald Hipp of the Jasper County Sheriff's Office.
That vehicle could not be tested for evidence, McIntosh said. Woodward said Hardeeville police await results of forensic evidence testing on the other recovered cars.
Chaneyfield was charged Tuesday with possession of a stolen vehicle, giving false information to law enforcement and speeding. At the time of his arrest, he was out on $75,000 bail in connection with four counts of grand larceny and one count of second-degree burglary, according to court records. Those charges, filed in January, are pending.
Chaneyfield was released from jail Tuesday after posting a total $2,603 bond, according to court records.
Woodward asks that anyone with information call the Hardeeville Police Department at 843-784-2233 or Jasper County Dispatch at 843-784-6668, especially if they have seen someone suddenly driving one of the stolen vehicles. Calls are anonymous, he said.
The vehicles include a white 2011 Ford pickup, 1998 Chevrolet Camaro, 2001 Dodge Ram, 1997 black Dodge Ram, 2001 Pontiac Aztek, green 2002 Nissan Altima, white 2001 Ford Crown Victoria, tan 2004 Chevy Silverado, silver 1994 Isuzu truck, white 2003 work van, white 1999 work van, tan 2010 Honda CRV, black Chevy Tahoe, burgundy 2000 Daewoo, and white 2011 Chevy Avalanche.
"We want names. Somebody has seen someone in these cars that's not normally seen in these cars," Woodward said. "We're willing to offer (a reward) for any information that leads to an arrest."
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.