Written by Donald Witkowski
An auto theft episode targeting luxury cars and SUVs hit the Jersey Shore Ocean City this week, prompting police to urge homeowners to lock their cars at night and remove the keys.
“I appeal to people to lock their cars and take the keys with them, because if they don’t, it puts the safety of our residents and officers at risk. It’s just a simple decision,” Ocean City Police Chief Jay Pritiman said in an interview.
Pritiman and Det. Lt. Steve Sullivan said Ocean City became the latest coastal community to be targeted by a North Jersey-based auto theft ring when three luxury cars were stolen Wednesday, September 21, in the early morning hours.
“It’s an epidemic in New Jersey this year,” Breitman said of the increase in the number of stolen cars.
Sullivan, who is leading the investigation, explained that Ocean City, Avalon, Stone Harbor, Atlantic City, Margate and Ventnor were among the coastal communities hit by car theft.
“They are really targeting high-end motor vehicles in affluent areas,” he said.
Since the beginning of the year, 10 cars have been stolen in Ocean City. Sullivan said he could link at least seven of those robberies to an auto theft ring operating out of Newark.
Police are asking for the public’s help in arresting the thieves who stole three luxury cars in the early hours of Wednesday morning on Mariana Lane and Spruce Road in the upscale Riviera neighborhood of Ocean City.
Sullivan said police are seeking home surveillance video from Mariana Lane, Spruce Road and Glenwood Drive between 12:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. Wednesday, September 21.
Sullivan noted that in each case, the thieves stole cars that were parked in the driveway, unlocked them, and the keys were still inside.
A homeowner in Mariana Lane called police shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday when he saw some people dressed in dark clothes and wearing masks had broken into his 2021 Mercedes G Wagons parked in the driveway.
Then the thieves got off in two Mercedes SUVs and drove out of town. Police spotted a Mercedes and chased it as it was speeding up Route 52 Causeway at over 100mph toward Somers Point.
The police made the decision to back down from pursuing a stolen Mercedes in a high-speed chase because the situation had become too dangerous. On one occasion, Breitman said, car thieves nearly crashed into a Somers Point police car.
The thieves managed to escape. One of the stolen Mercedes G Wagons has yet to be recovered. Sullivan said another missile was found after the gas ran out on the State Parkway in Egg Harbor.
“We are still looking for the suspects,” he said.
Meanwhile, the third vehicle stolen in the early morning hours of Wednesday was the Audi S5 2023. The Audi was stolen from a home on Spruce Road, near where the two Mercedes G Wagons were taken in Mariana Lane.
Audi has not yet been recovered. The owner did not report the theft to the police until later that morning. Sullivan said the car was locked and the keys were left inside.
“I would ask people to be diligent enough to take their keys from their cars. I also urge them not to put their keys in a visible location at the main entrance to their homes,” he said, noting that some car thieves break into homes to steal car keys.
Police are also investigating some of the auto burglaries that occurred this week on Glenwood Drive that may be linked to the auto theft episode. Sullivan said a Cadillac Escalade and a Mercedes SUV were broken into at the 200 block of Glenwood Drive, near where the Mercedes G Wagons and Audis were stolen.
The alarming rise in auto theft across the state prompted Acting New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin to form a task force for the auto theft ring last March.
In 2021, 14,320 vehicles were reported stolen in New Jersey, which is a 22 percent increase over 2020, according to state police data reported by NJ.com.
Authorities said that luxury cars stolen in New Jersey are often shipped overseas via carjacking rings through Newark Harbor or used by gangs in drive-by shootings.
In August, state Senator Richard Cody, D-Essex, and Senator Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, introduced new legislation that would toughen penalties for auto theft and target gang leaders in an effort to crack down on car theft episodes.
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