Car hopping: a criminal trend sweeping Southeast Texas

Car hopping: a criminal trend sweeping Southeast Texas

In the 1950s, carhops were the waiters or waitresses who brought food to patrons in their vehicles at Sonic-like establishments, sometimes on roller skates. Fifty years later, criminals have corrupted the term, using “car hopping” to describe a troublesome criminal trend.

According to an entry in the Urban Dictionary, car hopping is “the act of secretly entering someone’s automobile and taking whatever one finds useful, profitable or interesting.” And according to Vidor Police Chief Rod Carroll and officers with the Beaumont Police Department, it’s happening all over Southeast Texas.

“They go around neighborhoods trying car doors,” Carroll said describing car hoppers. “They take guns, change, jewelry, sunglasses, iPads, iPhones – anything they can sell.”

Aug. 4, Vidor police arrested one adult and two juveniles on multiple charges of burglary of a motor vehicle. Nicholas Layne Boyte, 18, and two 16-year-old juveniles were arrested after police arrived at their location to investigate the discharge of a firearm when one of the suspects fired a stolen gun, Chief Carroll reports.

“One of the kids got a gun and just had to play with it,” Carroll described. “He shot the gun, and officers found them and detained them. They ended up recovering four stolen guns” – many of which were stolen out of vehicles during recent auto burglaries. One of the recovered weapons was stolen during a home burglary in Buna in Jasper County.

Carroll said investigators believe the suspects and others, a “loosely knit group,” have been perpetrating car burglaries in Vidor and in Orange County, including several incidents in the city limits and in the county off Highway 12 on Aloha Street and Rickey Lane.

Carroll said officers first identified the suspects following an encounter on Oak Lane in Vidor. A homeowner called police when his alarm went off after someone attempted unsuccessfully to open his vehicle door. The perpetrators ran away, but police found them, according to Carroll. They were not arrested at the time as nothing had been stolen out of the vehicle, but when investigators later found the group firing a gun stolen during a vehicle burglary, they arrested the trio. A fourth person, a 14-year-old boy, was released after police determined he was not a suspect.

Carroll said one of the 16-year-old suspects involved in the auto burglaries already had a criminal history and had previously been arrested for possessing a stolen firearm in a separate encounter with law enforcement. The chief also asserted that in addition to the charges pending against the suspects for the auto burglaries, one or more could also face more serious felony charges for “organized criminal activity.”

A 19-year-old Vidor woman was arrested for burglary of a vehicle June 4 after officers reportedly discovered her “surrounded by property believed to be stolen.” Officers responded to Pirate Cove Apartments in Vidor at 2:30 a.m. after another officer reported a suspicious female at the complex who had run from him when he approached. According to Officer Ethan Mansfield, he and Sgt. Jesus Loredo were searching behind the Faith Assembly of God at 390 S. Archie St. when they located Sarah Elizabeth Cleveland. She was allegedly hiding next to a cinder block, which she had apparently used as a place to stow her car hopping spoils since, Mansfield reported, “inside the holes of the cinder block were rosary beads, (a) multi-colored wallet, (a) men’s wallet, coin purses, two pairs of fingernail clippers and coins.”

After her arrest, Cleveland reportedly copped to stealing some the property from a Jeep parked at Harris Muffler and Brake at 110 N. Main St. in Vidor. She then told the officers she had even more booty stashed around the church building, and allegedly confessed to three other auto burglaries from the two preceding nights.

According to the Officer Mansfield’s report, Cleveland stole a wallet and an MP3 player from a car at the Holiday Inn Express on June 2; gloves from a pickup truck at Pirate Cove Apartments on June 2; and a wallet from a car at the Pirate Cove Apartments on June 3.

When asked, Cleveland denied participating in several others that occurred in the neighborhoods of East Courtland, South Denver Street and East Bolivar Street over the several weeks preceding her June 4 arrest.

Cleveland is well known to Vidor police, according to police reports, and at the time of her arrest June 4, she had six criminal trespass warnings against her from different locations in Vidor. Two weeks after her arrest for auto burglary, on June 18, Cleveland was arrested for fraud for allegedly using a stolen credit card at Whataburger. According to the police report, she actually told the cashier the credit card was stolen.

Numerous auto burglaries have plagued the Beaumont area in recent months, resulting in substantial losses with credit cards, debit cards and other identifying information being stolen and used illicitly and with guns stolen from vehicles appearing at violent crime scenes in the city, so police from all areas of Southeast Texas are keeping an eye out for car hoppers. They ask that the public do the same, and call local law enforcement if they see someone trying car door handles in parking lots.

Chief Carroll says he believes a “lack of parental supervision” is to blame for a lot of the car hopping happening around the area. And he says the key word to remember if you want to avoid becoming a victim of auto burglary is “responsibility.”

“Don’t leave your gun in the car,” urged Carroll. “Don’t leave your car unlocked."