Golf cart theft is a growing concern in several Florida communities with what appears to be organized rings responsible for a rash of heists since August in Jacksonville, Atlantic Beach, The Villages and Charlotte County. Lakeland has also experienced a recent spate of 16 golf cart thefts, but the Lakeland Police Department and Polk County Sheriff’s Office say the uptick is not indicative of a trend or cause for alarm — as long as residents are not making it easy for thieves to simply drive off with their property.
“Golf carts are one of those items people just park in their driveways and don’t think about,” LPD spokesperson Robin Tillett said. “We hate to see that because most of these (victims) are seniors.”
At least six golf carts were reported stolen from Ariana Street addresses in Woodbrook Estates between Nov. 4 and Dec. 14. Two juveniles, arrested in connection with three, told LPD that they were selling the stolen carts, valued up to $4,500, to a man who would pay $500-$700 for them, load them on a truck and drive away.
Tillett said despite the 16 reported thefts, there does not appear to be a sustained surge in heists or an organized ring of golf cart thieves at work in the area.
At the Sheriff’s Office, Public Information Officer Scott Wilder said he is unaware of any surge in golf cart thefts in the county.
Wilder cautioned it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how many golf carts have been reported stolen because the crimes “are not categorized as motor vehicle theft but under grand theft,” which state law defines as “any intentional and unlawful taking of property valued at $750 or more.”
Nevertheless, he added, “We don’t seem to be seeing any kind of golf cart (theft) trend in our jurisdiction. We had two golf cart thefts in December — one in Winter Haven and the other in Frostproof.”
In addition to two juveniles arrested in connection to three golf cart thefts, LPD last week issued an arrest warrant for man suspected in at least seven other apparently unrelated thefts since early November, Tillett said.
Austin Shirah, 30, of Lake Wales, is wanted on an outstanding warrant for burglary of a residence and grand theft. An LPD posting warns, “Shirah may be armed and in possession of other stolen dirt bikes or motorcycles” in addition to golf carts.
In what appears to be unrelated thefts, the two arrested male juveniles — ages 15 and 17 — have been charged with thefts of three golf carts and are suspects in up to six more.
According to affidavits filed by LPD Detective Adam Woodring, he was assigned to investigate the burglary of a golf cart charger at 1510 Ariana St.
“At the time there had been air least five reported thefts of golf carts from the same neighborhood between Nov. 4 and Nov. 16,” Woodring wrote, noting between Dec. 11 and Dec. 16, “there were at least six more golf cart thefts” reported in the city — most of them in senior communities in west Lakeland.
The two juveniles were arrested Dec. 18 on unrelated charges but confessed to three golf cart thefts when questioned by Woodring at the Juvenile Assessment Center.
According to Woodring, the two said they used screw drivers to turn golf cart engines on and would drive through pre-cut fences to get into an area called “Smith Wood,” where they would stash them for at least two days.
During that interim, they told Woodring, they would contact an “unidentified Hispanic man they met through LetGo applications” who would “arrive with a truck and trailer and pay them between $500 and $700 for each golf cart.”
Woodring went to “Smith Wood” and did not find golf carts but found Christmas decorations and an Elvis album cover that had been attached to golf carts reported stolen.
The two were originally arrested for probation and have since been charged with four felonies. They remain in custody.
LPD offers these tips to better secure golf carts:
- Always remove the keys from the cart
- Consider securing cart with a locked chain
- Block cart in with a vehicle
- Equip cart with an airtag or GPS tracking device
- Make sure the area where cart is parked is well-lit
- Document the cart’s year, make, model and VIN number. Include a current photo without decorations.
Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Austin Shirah, please contact the Detective Woodring at 863.834.5949 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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