He crept through the streets of Post Falls with a backpack slung over his shoulder.
He was looking for easy targets - unlocked cars and open trucks. When he found them, he took whatever was easiest to grab and shoved it into his pack: guns, radar detectors, calling cards and cellular phones.
In one night, he plundered 50 vehicles.
Post Falls police believe a 17-year-old boy is responsible for more than 100 vehicle burglaries throughout Kootenai County.
On Thursday morning, they arrested the suspect.
“He did so many (burglaries), he had a hard time remembering what he took where and when,” said Lt. Alex Carrington of the Rathdrum Police Department.
Post Falls officers spent much of Thursday taking vehicle burglary reports from angry and upset residents.
The teen admitted breaking into 50 vehicles in the city, starting at 9 p.m. Wednesday and finishing at 5 a.m. Thursday, said Post Falls Detective Dick Halligan.
The youth also admitted plundering another 50 cars in the county during recent months. And Rathdrum police believe he is responsible for at least 15 burglaries in their city.
“As long as I’ve been here I’ve never locked anything, I’ve never come up missing anything,” said Marvin Lang, who has lived in Post Falls since 1968. “I always felt safe.”
Thursday morning he found out he would have to change his ways.
Both of Lang’s trucks had been ransacked, his belongings torn out of the glove compartments and thrown about the truck cabs. One handgun had been taken from each vehicle.
Halligan said the youth typically broke into vehicles that had been left unlocked. He operated mostly by himself, although some other teens may have been involved.
Rocky Banks remembered to lock one of the doors on his travel trailer Wednesday night but forgot to lock the second one.
He was horrified when he looked inside it Thursday morning. Someone had ransacked the vehicle, urinating and spreading feces throughout the interior.
“My wife said she felt violated,” Banks said. “Our trailer is a real big, important part of our lives.”
He and his wife and two children spent much of the summer camping in the trailer. On Thursday, they were still trying to figure out what had been taken.
“I was disappointed in myself because I left it unlocked,” he said. “But that’s no excuse. I can’t believe somebody would do something like that.”
The youth told police he burglarized the cars to pay for his drug habit.
Halligan said they suspected the youth was responsible for a rash of vehicle burglaries in recent months. But “there was never enough evidence to hold him,” Halligan said.
Then, on Wednesday night, an informant brought Lt. Carrington some items that had been stolen. The informant told police who was responsible.
Post Falls officers found the youth in a car in Post Falls about 9 a.m. Thursday. Inside the car, they found many of the items that had been stolen the night before, Halligan said.
Police also recovered stolen items from the youth’s Post Falls home and his friend’s homes in Rathdrum and Spokane.
Investigators piled the teen’s booty on top of a table at the police department. Eight rifles, cellular phones, a portable compact disc player, a cross pendant, a scale, cigarettes, a pile of 50-cent pieces - at least $6,000 worth of stuff.
Halligan believes the teen’s actions have played a big part in the city’s increasing number of vehicle burglaries.
In 1994, Post Falls and Rathdrum police received 164 vehicle burglary reports. So far this year, they have received 209 such reports.
“This is a real big break,” Halligan said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SECURITY TIPS Police offered the following suggestions to prevent vehicle burglaries: Always lock your car. Write down the serial numbers on your valuable items. Park in a gargage or near a light. Take all loose items - purse, cellular phone, etc. - inside with you. Buy a removable stereo that can be taken with you when you leave the car.
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