TARPON SPRINGS (FOX 13) - Three people are in custody, accused of breaking into cars in day care parking lots. Deputies say they caught them driving around in a van filled with stolen property.
Pinellas County deputies arrested Jorge Burleigh, 22, Whitney Smith, 28, and Reginald Williams, 38, Wednesday in Clearwater.
Authorities say the accused burglars frequented daycare parking lots looking for personal stuff people left behind. And they weren’t just targeting unlocked cars; instead, they were carrying out actual smash-and-grab break-ins -- damaging vehicles and stealing everything from purses to computers to phones.
While investigating one smash-and-grab, Pasco deputies tracked a stolen phone and alerted Pinellas county authorities. As Pinellas deputies searched for the accused crooks, a report came in about a smash-and-grab break-in at Oak Crest Preschool off East Lake Road in Tarpon Springs around 5 o'clock in the evening.
A short time later, deputies spotted a van linked to Burleigh, Smith, and Williams near McMullen Booth Road and State Road 580.
The trio ran away, but didn't get far. Deputies arrested them a short time later with the help of a canine officer.
Burleigh and Smith are from Hollywood, Florida; Williams is from Lauderdale Lakes.
Inside the van, deputies say they found items belonging to victims in the Pinellas and Pasco County vehicle break-ins, plus some items that may belong to victims in other counties too.
“It’s really sad that they’re doing that. These are hardworking parents,” said Oak Crest preschool owner Denay Gingher McLaughlin. “They live in a great area, but unfortunately things happen and people try to take advantage of what good we have and we’re doing here. They prey on the vulnerable and the people who are rushing. Take that extra minute. That poor mom last night spent hours dealing with it and is now having to deal with her vehicle and her things being stolen."
The investigation is ongoing.