JASPER COUNTY, Texas (KTRE) - Law enforcement agencies in Jasper County are investigating a series of seven vehicle thefts that occurred last week. One of the vehicle thefts turned into a police chase that ended with a crash.
At least six of the vehicles were pickups, according to Jasper County Sheriff Mitchel Newman. Newman said law enforcement is investigating four vehicle thefts that occurred out in the Rayburn Country area of the county and three that occurred in the Jasper city limits.
“We do have some leads that we’re working,” Newman said. “We’re trying to gather as much video evidence as we can from surveillance videos.”
A KJAS.com story stated that a Jasper police officer spotted one of the stolen trucks on Live Oak Lane and pursued the suspect until he crashed the pickup near where Highway 63 intersects with FM 2799 and FM 3414. The suspect, a man, fled on foot and ran into a nearby wooded area.
Even though several officers and a tracking dog searched the area, they were unable to locate the suspect, according to the KJAS.com story.
Newman said similar vehicle thefts have been occurring in Tyler and Liberty counties as well. The Jasper County sheriff said that law enforcement believes the stolen pickups are being stripped down and taken to Mexico.
“The suspects in these thefts are pretty organized,” Newman said.
Someone posted the KJAS.com story on the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page with a warning to vehicle owners.
Folks, all of the victims of stolen vehicles in this case had left the keys in their cars!” the Facebook post stated. “New Some even had their doors unlocked or windows down. Be smart about this. Make it difficult for the bad guys to take your things.”
The post also stated that, in most cases, criminals will move on “to the next one” if it is too much trouble to break into one particular vehicle, home, or building.
Captain Ken DeFoor, a spokesman for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, said 20 to 25 large-engine pickup trucks have been stolen from their county in the past five or six months. He added that most of the stolen pickups were white.
According to a press release, Travis Pierce, the lead investigator on the case, said the trucks were all high-profile vehicles that could travel in areas where law enforcement vehicles normally couldn’t.
“Several weeks ago, the Sheriff’s Office linked ten of these stolen vehicles to a small group of individuals from the Houston area and charged them with organized criminal activity,” the press release stated. “All were recently indicted.”
Recently, Liberty County Sheriff’s Office deputies recovered seven pickups from one location in the county, DeFoor said. The LCSO captain said the rear interiors - back seats, door panels, etc. had been ripped out of the trucks. In addition, the rear windows had been blacked out, DeFoor said.
The press release stated that food wrappings were found littering the rear of these trucks, indicating that they had been used to carry people.
DeFoor said that law enforcement believes the stolen trucks are being used in human smuggling operations. He added that it is thought that the trucks are being taken down to Mexico and then brought back to East Texas loaded with illegal immigrants.
It appears the pick-up trucks stolen in Liberty County as well as other jurisdictions in south Texas are being used for organized criminal activity such as smuggling contraband and human trafficking," the press release stated. “The investigation is on-going and will continue by the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with the other jurisdictions who are experiencing similar thefts of pick-up trucks.”
Many of the trucks that were stolen in Liberty County were from out of state, DeFoor said. He said there are a lot of out-of-state oilfield workers in East Texas and that the people behind the thefts often switched the out-of-state license plates with Texas plates.