Thieves prey on unlocked cars at Habersham

Susan Horne says she simply forgot to lock her car doors Monday night.

Horne, co-coordinator of Habersham's Neighborhood Watch Program, was one of a dozen residents in this upscale subdivision off Joe Frazier Road in Burton who reported their vehicles broken into between Sunday and Tuesday night. More than $4,000 worth of electronics and other goods were stolen.

Though it cost her a GPS device and an MP3 player worth at least $400, Horne said the thefts serve as a valuable lesson to residents countywide.

"People get lazy," she said. "We have such a close-knit community here that you forget that this kind of thing can happens all over the country in every community. I'm a culprit, too. It kind of gives everyone a wake-up call."

In nearly all of this week's break-ins, the vehicles were left unlocked, said Cpl. Robin McIntosh, spokeswoman for the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. Authorities have yet to identify suspects.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said county residents should always be on the lookout for would-be thieves looking to capitalize on their complacency.

"Regardless of where you work, live and play, you've got to take that extra step to protect your personal items," Tanner said. "The reality is that you've got these people in and around these neighborhoods and they're checking cars. If the car is unlocked, they're going to go through it and take what they can."

"If it's locked, they're moving onto something else," he said. "It's like casual shopping in parking lots."

This is the second time in as many months deputies have investigated rash of car break-ins.

Last month, the Sheriff's Office arrested two Beaufort High School students in connection with more than 50 break-ins on Lady's Island from April to June. Investigators said the teens, ages 16 and 17, were "car shopping" -- rifling through unlocked cars and stealing items that they later sold to fellow students.

The students were charged as juveniles and have been released from custody, McIntosh said.

Tanner said it is unlikely the break-ins on Lady's Island and in Habersham are connected.