Ventura County – Anyone who owns a car in any of California’s urban areas knows full well the potential consequences of leaving the keys in the car: you’re begging to have your car stolen. But how many vehicle owners ever consider the possibility that pieces of your car may be more valuable to thieves than the actual car or truck itself?
According to Ventura County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Det. Billy Hutton, assigned to the Thousand Oaks Police Department, the ubiquity of high-end SUVs throughout Southern California has created a seller’s market for the “third row” bench seats found in vehicles like the GMC/Chevrolet Suburban, Tahoes, Cadillac Escalades, and Ford Expeditions. And, as per the laws of supply and demand, where there is a market, there are those who will endeavor to fill the need. It’s those economic forces that are apparently motivating the interests of thieves who are “popping vehicle hatches and stealing the vehicles’ third-row seats within a minute’s time.”
Evidence of this epidemic of thefts came in the early morning hours of June 1st when Thousand Oaks patrol deputies spotted a vehicle occupied by three individuals driving through a residential neighborhood. Pursuant to a traffic stop, the three were identified as Robert Hunter, 24, Kenneth Brownridge, 22, and Courtney Triplett, 18, all hailing from Los Angeles County. But what really caught the eye of deputies were the “six sets of unattached third-row seats” stacked in the rear of their vehicle.
Upon further investigation, the three were identified as active Los Angeles gang members who were in possession of not just the third-row seats, but of burglary tools used to remove the seats from General Motors vehicles. As noted by Hutton, the seats were suspected to have been stolen from Thousand Oaks area vehicles, each with a dealership replacement value of “up to $4,000,” and which are found for resale in salvage yards and on Craigslist.com.
Hunter, Brownridge, and Triplett were all arrested on the scene and transported to Ventura County Jail where they were booked on charges of vehicle burglary, attempted vehicle burglary, conspiracy to commit a crime, possession of burglary tools, and participation in a criminal street gang. The bail for each was set at $300,000.
Photos: Courtesy Ventura County Jail Booking