Two Charged With String of Forest Preserve Burglaries

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Two men have been charged in connection with a string of burglaries from vehicles that were parked at several South Suburban Forest preserves, according to the Office of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

In light of the thefts, State’s Attorney Alvarez is reminding residents who frequent the forest preserves to exercise caution and properly secure their vehicles before leaving them to use forest preserve facilities or trails.

Jaton Harris, 19, of Calumet Park, and Brian Payne, 18, of Hammond, IN, have been charged with four counts of burglary in connection with thefts from vehicles that occurred between July 27 and Aug. 8 in parking lots at three south suburban forest preserves in Country Club Hills, Midlothian and Oak Forest. Harris is also facing one count of Criminal Damage to Property for damaging a municipal water tank while police were pursuing him.

According to prosecutors, over the past several weeks Cook County Forest preserve Police had been investigating burglaries to vehicles in which the thieves would break the car’s window and take whatever valuables had been left inside.

As part of the investigation, Forest preserve Police set up a sting in which they left a purse in a car that was left parked in the Midlothian Meadows Forest Preserve. Police put the area under surveillance and observed the defendants drive up to the car, break the window and take the purse.

Police pursued the defendants, whose vehicle struck a fence and a municipal water tank before it was stopped and the defendants taken into custody. Police were able to link the pair to three additional burglaries that took place in Yankee Woods in Oak Forest, Midlothian Meadows in Midlothian, and Vollmer Woods Forest Preserves in Country Club Hills.

Both defendants appeared in court at the Markham Courthouse where Judge Darren Bowden set their bail at $5,000 each and continued their cases until September 7.

State’s Attorney Alvarez offered the following safety recommendations to residents who leave their vehicles to use forest preserve facilities and trails:

  • Always lock your car and take the key with you.  Don’t hide it in, near or around the outside of your car.  If you are going to be exercising and trying to minimize what you need to carry, take only the key that will unlock to door and tie it to your shoe or use a safety pin to attach it to your clothes.
  • Do not leave any items in plain view.  This includes cell phones, purses, wallets, water, towels, and extra clothing.  Store items out of sight by placing them in the trunk, glove box or completely under the seat.
  • Park your vehicle near the entrance to the forest preserve, near other cars or in a busy area of the parking lot.  Vehicles parked in remote areas are easier targets for thieves.
  • If you see someone suspicious walking around vehicles and looking in windows, do not approach them, call the police.

The public is reminded that charging documents contain allegations that are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are entitled to a fair trial at which the state has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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