Thursday, July 22, 2010
Chronic car thieves leave trail of damage including photos and videos to chronicle their crimes
This resembles a fantasy story -- chronic car thieves leave trail of damage, chronicles crimes in photos, vidoes
It is being called one of the most brazen crime sprees ever uncovered, a case so unusual that justice officials have been unable to find any similar scenarios across Canada.
Two chronic Winnipeg car thieves -- a 16-year-old girl and her 18-year-old boyfriend -- spent an entire month wreaking havoc across the Prairies by stealing vehicles, gas and property and leaving a trail of costly damage in their wake.
In the process, they documented nearly every one of their crimes by taking pictures and videos that show them taunting police, drinking and driving, boasting to their friends and celebrating their accomplishments by dancing and making out on the top of stolen vehicles.
"In all my years... there has never been anything like this," veteran Crown attorney Elizabeth Laite told a Winnipeg courtroom Tuesday.
"This resembles a fantasy story. You would think Hollywood would come up with something like this," added her colleague, Stephanie Hermiston. "It is an exceptional case, extraordinary circumstances."
The female accused -- who can't be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act -- has pleaded guilty to 21 separate crimes stemming from the August to September 2009 rampage.
They include thefts, possession of stolen property, mischief and breaches of court orders. Her adult co-accused is expected to deal with his matters next month. He faces a lengthy prison term.
The Crown plans to show some of the photos and videos in court when the sentencing resumes. They are seeking the maximum youth sentence of two years behind bars for the girl, who has a long history of similar property offences and was on probation at the time. She is a Level 4 auto thief, the highest risk category assigned by police, and has previously been turned in by her frustrated parents who are unable to control her.
"There is no other sentence but the maximum that would be fit and fair here," said Hermiston.
Her lawyer is asking for her to be released immediately with time in custody, which is at 199 days and counting. Provincial court Judge Rocky Pollack has now adjourned the hearing until Aug. 19 for completion of a pre-sentence report probing the girl's personal background, prospects for rehabilitation and suggestions for controlling her in the community.
The two accused -- dubbed "Bonnie and Clyde" by some justice officials -- were originally sentenced last June for a variety of car thefts and property crimes. She got 18 months probation, while the young man got two years of custody less time already served. Both were ordered by the courts to stay away from each other.
In August, the man was released on a day pass from jail to go shopping with his mother at Walmart. While browsing through the aisles, he suddenly took off, stole his mother's car and picked up his girlfriend.
The pair then embarked on 30 days of chaos, which included stops in rural Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, court was told.
"They were flouting court orders, and thumbing their noses at society," said Hermiston.
Some of the "highlights" included burning a Hummer they stole just outside Winnipeg, nearly mowing down a vehicle owner who tried to interrupt a theft in eastern Saskatchewan and scrawling lyrics to a crude "rap song" over the interior of another car they left behind to be found by police.
"It said 'F the cops, they'll never catch us,'" said Hermiston. The pair would typically steal one vehicle, drive it for a few hours or days, cause extensive damage and then "trade" it for another one.
In one case, a rural Manitoba resident woke up to go to work and found his car missing, with a damaged one sitting exactly in its place.
"They would leave them behind after they'd picked over them like vultures," said Hermiston. The pair, along with some friends, would also go on "raiding parties" in which they would damage dozens of cars at a time just for kicks. Most of these occurred in the Steinbach area.
"The RCMP had to call in reinforcements from all over the province. They couldn't even keep up with the phone calls coming in from people reporting damage," said Laite, who was unable to provide an accurate estimate of financial loss.
I have never seen anything like these crimes before. It is pretty shocking. However, I am not sure that prison for this young woman would be appropriate. She has already spent nearly 200 days in custody. Prisons are known as the schools of crime and often increase one's chances of re-offending when released, especially for youth, as they learn new skills to avoid detection and new crime skills. This could be dangerous for this teen to learn anything new about stealing cars. I believe she should be released with time served, as her lawyer suggested.