Thieves in Baton Rouge have been targeting Ford pickups with keyless entry pads, capitalizing on motorists leaving their keys and valuables inside their vehicles, authorities said.
Investigators are probing a rash of stolen vehicle cases involving Ford F-250s and F-350s with keypads, court documents show, including the recent theft of Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard’s pickup.
“The biggest problem we’re having is people leaving spare keys and keys inside of their vehicle, which is allowing the thieves to steal the trucks,” said Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a Baton Rouge police spokesman. “They’re punching out the key opening and then from there they’re taking a screwdriver and opening the door.”
Ard’s 2011 F-250 was stolen Aug. 30 as he ate dinner with his family at Ruffino’s restaurant in Baton Rouge. The pickup truck was later recovered, but the sheriff’s service handgun and his wife’s purse had been taken.
“Because of keyless entry — a luxury many of us rely on a little too heavily — I felt comfortable leaving that key behind,” Ard said after the theft. “Take it from me, don’t ever let your guard down.”
Casey Rayborn Hicks, an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said some thieves are manipulating the electronic keypad.
“A lot of people leave the keys to their vehicle locked in the vehicle and just carry the electronic key fob as a matter of convenience,” Hicks said. “Criminals and car thieves are opportunists, and they do target vehicles with the keys left in them.”
After the high-profile theft of Ard’s pickup, sheriff’s officials received several tips from the public, court records show, including one pointing investigators to a group of thieves targeting Ford pickups. “Several stolen F-250 trucks and a F-350 truck were recovered and linked to these subjects,” an investigator wrote in court filings.
The investigation led authorities to the 75th Street home of Burnell Dalton Jr., an ex-convict with a history of dealing in stolen property. As deputies drove by his residence, they noticed a Yukon ice chest “in the open as if being used as a seat with several other chairs around it,” records show.
The same type of ice chest — which court records show was worth $1,300 — had been reported stolen from an F-350, prompting investigators to obtain a search warrant for Dalton’s residence.
Deputies seized the ice chest as well as an electronic navigation system and CD changer that had been removed from a vehicle. A decorative woman’s belt, also reported stolen, was found inside the residence.
Dalton, 35, 2222 75th St., was booked Sept. 13, with one count of unauthorized use of a movable and released the following day on $20,000 bail.
Hicks said deputies are still investigating the vehicle thefts.
Aside from removing keys, authorities said motorists should not leave valuables in plain sight in their vehicles. McKneely recommended vehicle owners install car alarms and ignition cutoffs to thwart would-be thieves.
“The alarm will quite possibly scare a potential suspect off,” he said. “That’s pretty much all you can do as far as protecting yourself.”