When Keith Pratt went outside at about 8 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 10, he noticed something wasn’t quite right with his car.
“I came out between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. and I thought, jeez, my windows are awfully tinted,” said Pratt. “I opened the door and was shocked.”
What he saw was that the passenger seat of his mother’s Chevrolet Lumina had been almost completely burned, leaving smoke residue on the windows.
“As soon as I saw it, I called the Whitehall police and they came right up,” said Pratt. “About a half-hour later, officer (David) Gebo and I were talking at the table and he got a call from County Dispatch that there was another one.”
Through Monday, Whitehall police had discovered that a total of four cars had been the victims of an apparent burglary/arson crime spree, while two other cars had received damage when the perpetrators tried to gain access.
“We had four cars that were burned out and one that never got going,” said Whitehall Police Chief Matthew Dickinson. “We don’t know a pattern of where it started or ended up, but we are piecing that together. We believe that this was an isolated incident, and I called all around the area about what had happened and no one else reported any cases that were similar.”
The car vandalisms and burglaries happened in the village at several homes located anywhere from Cliff Street to North Mountain Street to Skene Street. Dickinson said there was no connection between any of the owners of the vehicles that were damaged, and the perpetrators only went after cars that were unlocked.
“Any vehicle that was locked, they would bypass,” Dickinson said.
Pratt said with his car, his mother, Ann, had gone out to the car at about 11 p.m. on Jan. 9 to remove the keys from the ignition, but had not locked it up.
Dickinson said there were a number of items taken from the cars, including small amounts of money and a rifle.
“We don’t think this was all about robbery, though,” said Dickinson. “There was one car that had a wallet in the glove box and that was not taken. They would burn one car, plow through another and take everything out of it and then left the next one alone.”
Dickinson said there should not be a cause for alarm that a rifle was one of the items taken during the crime spree. He noted that police are working to obtain the serial number of the gun and get the information out to other departments so they can keep their eyes open for the stolen firearm.
For Pratt, several items were missing from his car.
“There were some postage stamps that were gone,” said Pratt. “There were several Stewart’s milk cards and some money.”
Dickinson said each of the vehicles was parked in the driveway of the owner’s house when the damages occurred.
“That is a scary situation for us because we these cars were right next to the houses and if things went bad, they could have started the houses on fire,” said Dickinson. “Luckily, there was not more damage done.”
For the most part, Dickinson said, the crimes were committed in a way that those affected were completely unaware of the situation.
“We had to tell three of the victims that there car was burned up,” said Dickinson. “Keith Pratt pretty much started this investigation with his phone call to us and we have been able to secure evidence from each of the crime scenes and with that evidence. We are hopeful that we could make an arrest shortly.”
Dickinson said he feels it is possible the acts were committed by a Whitehall resident, and the department is currently looking for any witnesses who may have seen suspicious activity in the late night/early morning hours of Jan. 9 and 10.
Anyone wishing to remain anonymous can report a tip through the department’s Web site, www.whitehallpolice.org.
Dickinson said that when arrested, the person or persons involved in the crimes could face several charges, including felony arson, larceny, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment.