Sheriff’s deputies are investigating a string of car, truck and trailer thefts, including four vehicles stolen in Bartholomew County last weekend and three more this week.

The month-long series of thefts involve vehicles that investigators believe are being used to joy ride for a short time, and then are dumped or sometimes wrecked in rural areas of Bartholomew and surrounding counties.

In the past three months, 24 vehicles and/or trailers have been stolen in Bartholomew County, compared to 18 at this time last year, a 33 percent increase, Sheriff Matt Myers said.

Among the stolen vehicles that have not yet been recovered, and dates stolen:

  • Thursday morning: A 2000 Chevrolet S10 brown truck with license plate TK280LQC.
  • Sept. 19: Chevrolet 2500HD 2001 extended cab truck, license plate TK15MJN and a 2006 28-foot goose neck enclosed red trailer with license plate TR779ASW.

Capt. Christopher M. Roberts, commander of the sheriff’s investigations division, said these stolen vehicles or the trailer could be parked in public parking lots, farm lanes or areas that aren’t frequently traveled.

The latest car and truck thefts follow several other related incidents and arrests this month that are being investigated by the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department and Columbus Police Department.

  • On Sept. 7, a semitrailer and an attached trailer filled with $100,000 worth of automotive parts, including engines, transmissions and batteries, was stolen from Willoughby Drive in Taylorsville. The semi and the empty trailer were recovered Sept. 8 in Shelby County, sheriff deputies said.
  • On Sept. 14, a sheriff deputy spotted a reported stolen vehicle at County Road 450N and Talley Road. During a traffic stop, deputies arrested Brian K. George, 24, 3054 Rosewood Drive on preliminary charges of auto theft, possession of methamphetamine and driving while suspended.
  • On Sept. 21, Columbus police arrested Jeremy T. Calhoun, 25, and William D. Decker, 18, both of Columbus, after they found them in a truck that had been reported stolen in Bartholomew County on Sept. 19. Decker was arrested on preliminary charges of possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of stolen property, operating a vehicle without a license and possession of a handgun without a license. Calhoun was arrested on preliminary charges of possession of a handgun without a license, a warrant and unauthorized entry of a motor vehicle in the commission of a crime.

In addition to these incidents, Myers and Roberts said thieves have targeted construction trailers around the area this month looking for tools and equipment to sell on the street or at pawn shops.

Individuals taking the vehicles are targeting trucks that have visible tool boxes, or tools in plain sight, and taking the tools when ditching the truck in a rural area, detectives said. One of the trucks stolen this week was wrecked and abandoned in a rural area, and tools stored inside it were gone.

In some cases, owners of the vehicles have been out of town and not aware that the vehicles were stolen until they returned, which has further hampered law enforcement efforts to recover the trucks and personal property, detectives said.

And in other cases, owners have left keys in the vehicles or the vehicles are unlocked, Myers said.

He attributed many of the thefts to drug abuse and people looking for items in the vehicles to pay for their drug habit.

“It’s a small percentage of people we are dealing with, and unfortunately it’s the same people we deal with over and over again,” Myers said. “It continues to be the same cycle — and the same group of people.”

The sheriff’s department plans to meet with city police on coming up with a community-wide approach to prevent these kinds of thefts, known as property crime in the crime statistics.

City police already are warning residents to refrain from starting their car to warm it up in the morning and leaving it unattended and unlocked after an SUV owner had their vehicle stolen Wednesday morning.

Most thefts are crimes of opportunity, said Sgt. Matt Harris, Columbus Police Department spokesman, advising residents to never leave a vehicle running while unattended.

Myers said he also hoped to revive an issue that was voted down by the Columbus City Council in 2014 that would have required pawn shops to report items they receive in a database that could be used to find stolen property much more quickly.

Roberts asked residents to remember that if they see someone or something out of the ordinary, they should call 911.

He also asked residents to record serial numbers, makes, models and brands and other identifying information of personal property, which could help lead to recovering the items if they are stolen. Taking photographs or a video of the items also will help investigators in identifying stolen property.

The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department is seeking the public’s help in preventing vehicle thefts, asking residents to report suspicious activity to police.

“I would much rather go out and check something out and have it be nothing, than not get a call and find out that we weren’t called out to something where we should have been,” Myers said. “Don’t hesitate to call,” he said.

How to prevent vehicle thefts
  • Keep your vehicle locked at all times
  • Never leave your keys in your car. Close all the windows and the sunroof.
  • Never leave your car running and unattended.
  • Avoid leaving valuables inside your vehicle where they can be seen.
  • Install an anti-theft system in your vehicle if it doesn’t have one. Many insurers offer discounts for installing or having an anti-theft system in your vehicle.
  • Park in well-lit areas.

Have a tip?

Anyone with information about stolen vehicles or trailers in Bartholomew County is asked to call the Sheriff’s Tip Line at 812-379-1712.

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.