OTTUMWA — This month's car thefts were not confined to Davis County, moving five law enforcement agencies to chase down — both literally and metaphorically — the suspects responsible for stealing and wrecking the vehicles.
Wapello County Sheriff Chief Deputy Don Phillips scrolled through a list of a total of 18 vehicles that have been stolen in the last two weeks: eight from Davis County, five from Wapello County and five from Jefferson County.
There are now four suspects in custody, though Phillips said he still expects more arrests to be made.
William McCarroll, 18, and Cody Surber, 18, both of Ottumwa, were each charged last week with several counts and varying degrees of theft, all felonies. Both are being held in Davis County Jail on $10,000 cash-only bond and $5,000 cash-only bond, respectively.
A 17-year-old Ottumwa boy, Devan Harland, was also charged with possession of stolen property and several counts of second-degree theft in connection with three cars stolen from Ottumwa and two from Eddyville on Thursday. He's being held in the Lee County Juvenile Detention Center.
On Tuesday, a fourth individual was picked up on a warrant: Jesse James Clawson, 26, of Ottumwa. He was charged with possession of stolen property and is being held in Wapello County Jail on $5,000 cash-only bond.
"For lack of a better term, they were playing 'demolition derby' with these vehicles," Phillips said. "These vehicles sustained a lot of damage, most from running the vehicles into each other. One vehicle is [submerged] in Lake Arrowhead, and one was in the [Des Moines] River behind Winger."
The thefts have proven that people should not leave their keys in their vehicles, Phillips said, something most in rural areas think they can do without worrying about someone stealing their car. Keys were left in nearly all of the 18 stolen vehicles, he said.
The suspects were charged with first- and second-degree theft instead of burglary, Phillips said, because burglary is when an individual enters an occupied structure to complete theft or assault. While a vehicle is considered an occupied structure, Phillips said these crimes fell more in line with theft.
In addition, burglary of a vehicle is an aggravated misdemeanor, whereas first-degree theft is a Class C felony and second-degree theft is a Class D felony.
Between June 16 and 17, eight of the 18 vehicles were stolen from Jefferson and Davis County. Some were recovered later on June 17 in Wapello County.
At 11:30 a.m. June 17, the Wapello County Sheriff's Office received a call of a red Pontiac Grand Am — first reported stolen from Bloomfield — in the ditch at River and Floris roads.
At the same time the Pontiac was stolen, a red Nissan Titan was also stolen from Bloomfield, for which law enforcement believes McCarroll was responsible.
Wapello and Jefferson County Sheriff deputies caught a glimpse of the Nissan in Eldon that day and a chase ensued, which sped east into Van Buren County and south into Davis County near Troy before deputies lost the vehicle. It was later recovered in a farm field southeast of Floris, though a search of the area found that the thieves had fled.
In that time, McCarroll also allegedly stole an Oldsmobile Cutlass, Davis County Sheriff Dave Davis previously said. That vehicle is currently submerged in Lake Arrowhead east of Ottumwa. Law enforcement and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources will work this week to retrieve the car from the lake.
A few days later, the thefts began again. At 5:35 a.m. Thursday, the Wapello County Sheriff's Office received a report of a vehicle in the ditch at Copperhead Road and U.S. Highway 63. Deputies discovered that the vehicle had been stolen from Ottumwa alongside 10 other vehicles stolen that morning from Ottumwa, Eddyville, Bloomfield and Drakesville.
"This happened so fast with [Phillips], the investigation and Davis County deputies," said Jefferson County Sheriff Gregg Morton. "They all went nuts on this and got it solved so fast. The cooperation between the three counties was awesome."
While it's difficult to pin down which suspect allegedly stole which vehicle, Phillips said all will be charged as conspirators.
"Even if they weren't the exact one who took the vehicle, they will be charged with conspiracy because they all acted together and agreed to committing the crime," Phillips said.
Davis previously told the Courier that Harland, 17, could be tried as an adult for the felony charge. Phillips said that will have to be determined by a juvenile judge.
While a vehicle was stolen from the parking lot behind the Courier on Monday, Phillips said law enforcement doesn't believe it was related to the series of car thefts allegedly completed by the four individuals in custody. The vehicle was eventually recovered in the 1000 block of Center Avenue Monday night in the parking lot on the visitors' side of Schafer Stadium.
— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.