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License plate cameras lead to manhunt

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER

Those Indian River Shores license plate cameras really work.

A hit on a car reported stolen in Fort Pierce last week led officers on a chase up A1A and a manhunt, assisted by private security officers from two gated island communities.

Last Wednesday around 3 p.m., the cameras recently installed at the south entrance of the town and focused  on northbound A1A, alerted on the license plate of a black 2013 Chrysler 200 that had been reported stolen, according to Shores Det. Sgt. Kip Benham.

A Shores patrol officer caught up to the vehicle as the driver attempted to enter the gate of the Shores, a subdivision just behind John’s Island, where the car stopped long enough for the gate security guard to get a description of the two men inside: both in their 30s or maybe 40, one a white male, one a black male.

After being turned away at the gate, they eluded police and sped up A1A, finally crashing the car outside the Sea Oaks community and fleeing on foot.

When the men fled, officers from John’s Island security force were looped into the incident as they share a communications channel with the Indian River Shores Police. John’s Island officers were used to set up a perimeter to search for the suspects and a man fitting the description of the black male was spotted jumping a fence into the John’s Island community on the ocean side around 8 p.m. The white male was not seen by police or security officers after the duo split up.

The Sheriff’s Office brought in a helicopter, police dogs and handlers to help find the suspect, Public Information Officer Eric Flowers confirmed. The search was called off around 2 a.m. after several hours of work bore no results.

“The K-9 tracked the man spotted earlier to the beach area where they felt he went onto the beach and headed south,” said Michael Korpar, director of security for John’s Island Property Owners Association in an email alert to residents sent out Thursday morning after the presence of a police helicopter and K-9 search crews prompted queries from residents.

“We checked the vacant houses,” Benham said. “We know where all the vacant houses are located and so does John’s Island. In this case, the bad guy just got away.”

With regard to the notice sent out by John’s Island Security, Benham commented only that the suspects were at no time deemed to be “armed and dangerous” just because they had stolen a car and fled from police.

Korpar concluded his alert to John’s Island residents, “We were very fortunate with these two incidents that nothing bad really happened.¬† But this is a reminder that everyone needs to be diligent in locking their homes, using their alarm systems, locking their vehicles when not in use, and most importantly¬† ‘if you see something, say something.’”

Since the vehicle was ditched in the unincorporated county, Sheriff’s Office crime scene technicians handled the processing and disposition of the stolen car.