Authorities are warning people to keep their belongings safe after a fast-moving thief broke into eight vehicles over a short period of time Tuesday evening at The Centre.
"It was a smash and quickly go," said Centre Director Erica Lynford, describing how fast the crimes happened.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has not yet released specific details about the thefts.
"We're investigating several vehicles that were broken into," said Cecilia Barreda, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office spokesperson.
Lynford says the thefts occurred on one of The Centre's busiest nights when the building was full. A Zumba class was going on, and there were multiple meetings underway, including a meeting attended by Palm Harbor Fire Rescue Chief James Angle, who wound up helping to pick up glass in the parking lot that was from vehicle windows that were smashed.
Lynford says the thief took iPads, Kindles, purses, and gym bags. One of the victims, who did not want to be identified, estimated the thefts happened between 6:05 and 6:30 p.m.
"It was pretty much a short time period," she told Palm Harbor Patch. "They picked cars that had bags in them."
The victim had left a gym bag in the front passenger seat and locked her vehicle before heading into The Centre.
"I locked it. I remember hitting the button."
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She thinks the thief spotted the bag and smashed the window with a baseball bat or tire iron. Inside the gym bag was her watch and a pearl necklace that was once owned by her grandmother. She estimated the items were worth about $1,800.
The woman says a purse was also stolen from the front seat of a pickup truck, and the thief broke into another car, then opened a latch for the car's trunk and took a laptop and iPad from the trunk. Both vehicles were parked in the row closest to The Centre.
"The police did say that unfortunately Palm Harbor seems to be a target right now," said Lynford during a monthly PHCSA meeting on Wednesday night. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office did not mention this to Patch.
Lynford's staff informed The Centre's instructors and class members about the break-ins. They also called the YMCA and Palm Harbor Library to warn staff there.
"Don't keep anything in your car including your trunk that may be of value that's my advice. Actually it's the police officer's advice," said Lynford.
Barreda offered similar advice: "Don't leave valuables in plain view."
Lynford says she's glad Fire Chief Angle was there Tuesday night.
"Between him and I, we cleaned up about 70 pounds worth of glass," she said.
"He made sure all the ladies were safe going home. It was nice to have the chief there."
The Pinellas Sheriff's Office has not reported anything about additional vehicle break-ins in Palm Harbor. However, Barreda did say that investigators are looking into three break-ins at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy (TBSA) in Oldsmar. She did not release additional details.
An East Lake Patch reader tells us a car parked next to her minivan was broken into at the TBSA on Saturday, Jan. 12. Then, on Wednesday, Jan. 16, she photographed some glass that remained in the parking lot. You can read the details and see the photos on East Lake Patch.
- The Centre is located at 1500 16th St. (727) 771-6000.