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California and the West

Car Theft Suspect Sees an Unwelcome Development

Law enforcement: Automated camera used to identify people running red lights provides a snapshot of teenager driving a stolen Oldsmobile.

January 27, 1998|SCOTT HADLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OXNARD — Every picture tells a story.

In the case of an unlucky 17-year-old, it was a picture snapped by an automated camera as he was running a red light in a stolen car.

Cameras installed in Oxnard two years ago were designed to help police nab motorists who plow through red lights in dangerous intersections. But in this case, investigators say that they recognized the young man's distinctive profile as he drove a stolen dark-colored Oldsmobile Cutlass--a popular make for car thieves--through the light.

"The picture was just so crystal clear," said Det. Chris Orsini, who knew the suspect by sight because of his long history of stealing cars and going on joy rides. His name was not released because he is under 18.

This is the first time a picture from one of the city's automated cameras has been used in the city to solve another crime, Orsini said.

"It's pretty funny. I wish I had this kind of thing on all the auto theft investigations I work on," he said.

Orsini went to the teenager's home last week and his sister said he had just been arrested on suspicion of riding in another stolen car.

The investigator tracked the teenager down at the Ventura County Juvenile Hall and asked him about the Olds that was stolen Dec. 22 in the 5300 block of Surf Rider Way.

"I had a plan and didn't want to show him the picture right away," Orsini said. "I was enjoying it a bit, I guess."

Orsini said he asked the suspect if he had taken the car, and he said, "No."

"Well, what if I told you I have some more evidence?" Orsini asked.

"No, I don't steal cars," the young man responded.

Then Orsini showed him the picture.

"Where'd you get that picture from?" Orsini said the youth asked. Orsini said the 17-year-old then explained how he had taken the car. He now faces auto theft charges in connection with the incident.

Officials from the company that installs the cameras, U.S. Public Technology of San Diego, said the automated cameras have not solved many big crimes, except for traffic accidents at intersections.

"Unless they make the mistake of going through a red light, it's not going to take a picture," said Rob Kerr, a company spokesman.

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