WINTER HAVEN (FOX 13) - A group of criminals targeting Winter Haven has left dozens of drivers with a pricey repair bill. In the last month, police say more than 80 vehicles were burglarized, most of them having their windows smashed in.
Often with car burglaries, police find the doors were left unlocked. What's perplexing about this crime spree is, nearly all the cars broken into were locked up.
"There is a group going out, just smashing windows, apparently, for fun or for no reason," said Jamie Brown, Winter Haven Police Department Spokesperson.
From May 1 to June 3, Winter Haven Police say there have been 82 reports of car burglaries. Out of those 82, 72 of the vehicles were secured, leading the suspects to smash through windows. That's what makes this crime spree a bit unusual.
"Typically criminals want the easy way out," Brown said. "They'll just flip the door handles. If they can get in the vehicle, they'll grab what they can. Easy in, easy out. You have to have some effort to punch these windows, to smash these windows and go into the vehicle. In some of these instances, two or three of these windows are smashed."
Police say the group or groups of criminals have hit 28 different locations, nine of them being multi-unit residential or medical facilities.
Spring Lake Rehabilitation Center was hit two separate times.
Florida's rainy season is not the best time to lose a window, or two windows, in Rafael Hernandez's case.
"I can not wait to get this fixed," Hernandez said as he secured the plastic over his window and closed the door.
Sunday morning, he and his neighbors at Lakeside Terrace Senior Apartments got a rude awakening.
"It was all shattered. It was glass in the front, my son's seat had glass on it, too. We had to clean that out, it was a mess," Hernandez said. "It was like 17 cars that got shattered. They got across the street and a friend of mine's down there, they shattered his windshield, too. So everybody got the brunt of it."
Despite two smashed windows, Hernandez said his car was actually unlocked. The criminals took some change and left him with a hefty bill.
"$350," Hernandez said. "And we are not going through our insurance because pretty much, they are charging a $500 deductible. So, we are going to have to go out of our pocket for it."
He feels worse for elderly neighbors forced to pay for repairs on fixed incomes.
"We looked at it like, wow, who could do this? They've gotta be really bored with their lives to do this," Hernandez said.
“Our citizens are doing everything right when securing their vehicles,” said Chief Charlie Bird. “This group going around victimizing our residents causing hundreds of dollars to be spent on repairs is inexcusable. When we find who is responsible, they will be charged to the fullest extent.”
Investigators ask the public to call in with any information that could help lead to the identity of the group or groups responsible for these crimes. Anyone with information, no matter how small it may be, is asked to call Heartland Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226-TIPS (8477). Callers are guaranteed anonymity and could be eligible for a CASH reward of up to $3,000.