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Couple Charged in String of Robberies, Burglaries

Todd Hill Smith and Rebecca Jean Mangan's toddler was reportedly with them for about half of the 14 alleged crimes.

February 15, 2001|NANCY WRIDE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The parents whose 18-month-old son was left in his car seat while they allegedly robbed and burglarized hardware stores and sandwich shops from Fontana to Laguna Niguel were charged Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court in Laguna Niguel.

Todd Hill Smith, 32, and Rebecca Jean Mangan, 24, whose last address was a Fontana motel, appeared before Superior Court Judge Carl Biggs in connection with 14 robberies and burglaries. Their bail was set at $250,000 and $150,000, respectively.

The judge granted the prosecution's request for higher-than-standard bail because sheriff's deputies allegedly found a loaded sawed-off shotgun in the couple's truck the night of their arrests and a loaded shotgun in their motel room. A pellet gun was reportedly used in several of the armed robberies.

Mangan and Smith's toddler was not mentioned during the proceedings, and the boy, whose name was not released, was believed to be with his maternal grandmother, Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino said.

Two things stand out about the case, he said: "A 1-year-old child was in the vehicle; that's unusual in itself. The other thing is that usually a burglar is a burglar, a robber is a robber, and not both. They were doing both."

"In terms of their motive for burglary or robbery, what ever motivates people?" he added. "I don't think it was to feed the baby. If they were worried about the baby, they wouldn't have taken him out on robberies."

Their arraignments were continued to Feb. 28 so that lawyers with the Orange County public defender's office in Santa Ana could be permanently assigned to their defense.

If convicted of the felonies, Smith could be sentenced to a total of 16 years, and Mangan to nearly 10 years, in state prison, Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Pear said after the hearing.

The boy was not with his parents when they were arrested in the early-morning hours Monday, but store video surveillance camera footage and witness statements indicate that he was in his parents' white Chevy S10 pickup for about half of the 14 crimes they are charged with, Amormino said.

Smith, an unemployed construction worker from the La Mirada area, and Mangan, who gave no employment data to detectives, were arrested early Monday after trying to elude a dragnet around an apartment complex by hot-wiring a 1959 Ford Fairlane, which died on them.

The 14 crimes that authorities are connecting to the couple began about two weeks ago and occurred in Orange County cities as well as in San Bernardino, Fontana, Corona and other communities.

Surveillance cameras at at least four stores allegedly captured Smith and Mangan in the course of break-ins or robberies, authorities said.

On Feb. 5, Smith was allegedly videotaped breaking into a Sports Chalet and failing to break into an Outdoorsman Express as Mangan allegedly served as a lookout; in the same hour, they were allegedly caught on videotape at a Home Depot that was robbed of cash. In at least two of the videos, the child is seen in the truck, Amormino said.

At the Sports Chalet in Mission Viejo, Smith used a crowbar to pop open the sliding front doors of the closed store, Amormino said. Mangan allegedly stood outside the door, acting as a lookout, and within a few moments signaled to Smith, who came out empty-handed. They then drove off, Amormino said.

Moments later, the pair were allegedly captured on video at the entrance of an Outdoorsman Express in Mission Viejo, which Smith also allegedly tried to enter after business hours by prying open the door with a crowbar. When that failed, the couple allegedly went to a nearby Home Depot, which was still open, and Smith demanded cash at gunpoint. He got the money and left, Amormino said.

On Sunday night, Smith entered a Togo's Eatery in Laguna Niguel about 7:30 p.m., said he had a gun and robbed the shop of cash, Amormino said. An employee there said a woman was seen outside the shop, nearer the back. A short time later, Smith did much the same at a Johnny B's sandwich shop in Mission Viejo, Amormino said.

Patrol officers were alerted and given a description of the truck and the two suspects: a white man with a shaved head, tattooed hands and a thin gray sweater; and a young white woman with long, light-brown hair.

About 2 1/2 hours later, a deputy patrolling in Rancho Santa Margarita spotted a white truck, lost sight of it as he turned around, then found the truck abandoned in the driveway of the Villa Serena apartment complex. The complex was sealed off and the truck searched.

Two hours after that, a 1959 Ford Fairlane was seen leaving the complex with a couple inside who looked like the suspects. As a deputy pulled behind, the car died, restarted, then stalled, and the pair were taken into custody. The Ford had been stolen and hot-wired, Amormino said.

Between the sandwich-shop robberies and the arrests, Smith is allegedly captured on surveillance videotapes breaking into two other sporting-goods stores in Rancho Santa Margarita, Amormino said. But the couple's son was dropped off at his grandmother's house prior to those crimes, Amormino said.

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