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Auto burglars hit sports venues

Brazen break-ins alarm Manteca soccer officials

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POSTED September 17, 2013 3:08 a.m.

It takes less than a minute for a criminal to smash a car window and take a purse, beloved gadgets or a stereo.

That was the message delivered by Manteca Police Sgt. Jodie Estarziau on Monday afternoon, two days after Manteca’s busiest sports parks were targeted by burglars.

Police were alerted to three incidents of burglary involving multiple vehicles in less than an hour on Saturday morning, including two at Big League Dreams.

The other incident took place at Woodward Park, where the Manteca Area Soccer League hosts games throughout the day.

It’s unclear whether the incidents are related. Manteca Police haven’t made any arrests and each case is still under investigation.

Until then, Estarziau says, the community needs to protect and educate itself on today’s criminal.

Burglars target parks with heavy traffic

Contrary to popular belief, Estarziau said burglars aren’t deterred by locations with heavy foot and vehicle traffic, or in the case of Big League Dreams, roving security.

Criminals are skilled enough to pull off a heist in the middle of the morning at a park bustling with activity. The perpetrator, inconspicuous to a passerby, needs only a small window of time to complete their smash-and-grab.

“I think it’s easy to walk through a parking lot and look like you’re headed to your own vehicle,” Estarziau said. “They’ll look over, take a quick glance and see something valuable.

“It takes only 30 to 45 seconds for someone to get inside a car and take what they want, especially if it’s valuable. … A minute is not very long. Security could be going around the parking lot and it would be easy for them not to see someone doing that.”

For those reasons, Estarziau said burglars often target locations like Woodward Park and Big League Dreams, which sees hundreds of thousands of guests pass through its gates each year, because of the crowds and potential loot.

The burglary at Woodward Park took place in the new parking lot along Bridewell Avenue shortly after games began.

The incident prompted MASL officials to circulate a note to its coaches and parents on Saturday. It will also be hot topic at the next board meeting Monday, Sept. 23.

“I’ve been with MASL now for seven years,” Director Bill Arriola said, “and this is the first time we’ve had a major break-in.”

Big League Dreams often hosts youth baseball and adult softball tournaments on the weekends, inviting teams and families from all corners of the map.

“With these tournaments and games, you’ve got people traveling long distances and there’s a good chance they’ll have iPods and DVD players – things people normally travel with,” Estarziau said.

“Thinking from a criminal’s perspective, if someone leaves their car for a lengthy period of time and they’re traveling, I might be able to get some valuable things out of their vehicle.”

BLD general manager Roy Fetherolf was not available for comment.

His sports park was hit twice on Saturday morning, according to police reports.

At 10:55, a stereo was stolen from a white Ford 350 truck. Nearly an hour later, a Chevy Tahoe and Silverado were burglarized.

Estarziau said a woman will file a third report online, citing an attempted break-in.

Don’t leave valuables

in your vehicle

Arriola is astonished by the brazen nature of these burglaries. He encourages coaches and parents to attend the next board meeting, where parking lot safety will be discussed.

Volunteers currently serve as field marshals during the games, but their responsibilities might be expanded to include regular sweeps of the parking lots.

At least one burglary took place Saturday at Woodward Park, though the note released by MASL suggests there were multiple break-ins.

The incident reported to the Manteca Police department involved a 2008 Saturn Outlook, which had a window smashed and a purse stolen.

“That’s a perfect example of just not keeping it (valuable items) in your car,” Estarziau said. “It’s not that loud when somebody breaks out a window. They’re not hitting it with a crowbar or a hammer. They have techniques that can make it pretty quiet. Someone may not notice it a couple rows over.”

The report was logged at 10:57 a.m., two minutes after similar report was filed across town at BLD.

For now, Arriola has asked his parents and coaches to bring all valuable items with them to the field.

“I want you all to be aware that at today’s games several cars got broken into at the fields. In both parking lots,” the note read. “Please make you (sic) parents aware and that they need to bring valuables with one the fields and not leave them in the car.”

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