Door-breakdown burglaries subject of meeting tonight
on November 11, 2008
by ISABEL ESTERMAN
Nov. 13–Nanci, 50, a teacher living in Montclair, hardly ever uses her front door. She and her family just go in through the carport.
But one bright Tuesday afternoon in September, a burglar came right through it. “They just broke the door,” says Nanci, who asked her last name be withheld because of the recent burglary. The deadbolt was locked, she and her husband say, but their hollow-core door barely slowed the burglar down. It gave way without even damaging the doorframe.
Nanci and her family were among the early victims of a crime wave in the Oakland hills, where police have counted more than 70 residential burglaries since August. Tonight, Montclair Safety and Improvement Council and the Piedmont Pines Neighborhood Association will host a meeting from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Montera School Auditorium, where residents can get updates on the burglary case, and meet police officers who helped arrest two of the prime suspects after a wild chase through the Oakland hills.
On Oct. 28, police arrested Chas Langley of Marin City and Kevin Simmons of Denver, Colo., whom they believe to be responsible for many of the kick-down burglaries. Much of the credit, they say, goes to Montclair Problem Solving Officer Maureen Vergara, and to a vigilant community. “We’re all kind of amazed,” says Sgt. Bernard Ortiz. “They’re very well organized.”
Residents knew to be on the lookout for a blue Honda, and one alert neighbor spotted a vehicle matching the description and called the police with the plate numbers. When the plate numbers came back as stolen, police immediately sent out all available units. “Everybody wanted to get them,” says Ortiz.
Police poured into the neighborhood, one unit quickly locating the car on highway 13. When the vehicle pulled off the highway and into the 76 gas station on Broadway, police attempted a felony car stop, says Officer Randall Chew, who was on the scene. “And at that point, they decided to take off,” he says.
Police boxed the car in, but that didn’t stop Langley, who was driving. He tried to ram his way out, through Chew’s car. Chew, who was locked into eye-contact with Langley, dashboard to dashboard as the cars collided, said Langley looked “more and more desperate.”
After ramming Chew, Langley attempted to escape by driving backwards at full speed, before losing control and sliding down an embankment outside the Montclair golf course. “The passenger just kind of fell out of the car and gave up,” says Chew. But Langley, the driver, took off running towards a stand of trees. “He was tazed at a dead sprint and fell down instantaneously,” said Ortiz.
At that point, Langley was finally taken into custody, says Officer Anthony Ramos, and both men have since been charged with multiple burglaries, felony possession of a firearm, assaulting an officer and felony evasion.
Nanci herself witnessed part of the chase, as she was driving home near Park Avenue. “The police were just flying up Park Blvd,” she says. When she saw the helicopter hovering overhead, and police cars were crowding the entrance to the Montclair golf course, she was pretty sure it had to do with the burglaries. “Oh that’s great,” she remembers thinking. “I was just so happy.”
When she had arrived home, the afternoon her front door was forced open, she entered through the carport as usual. She noticed something was wrong, she says, when she first saw the open door. And then she saw her flat-screen television was missing. “I glanced over where it used to be, and it was gone,” she says. Nanci immediately left the house to call her husband and the police. .“It was freaky and unsettling,” she says.
Later, she discovered the burglars hadn’t stopped in the living room. “They went through our underwear, our top drawers, and dumped everything on the floor,” Nanci says. Her 10-year old daughter’s dresser got the same treatment. “I felt very violated,” she says. “Especially when I saw the underwear drawer and the stuff all over.”
Altogether, she estimates, her family lost about $2500 worth of goods. But the most heartbreaking loss was not material, Nancy says. Her camcorder was stolen, and with it, tapes – not yet transferred – of her parent’s 60th anniversary celebration. “They were singing to each other on it, the kids were singing,” she says. “I’m really sad to have lost it. “
Nanci said she and her neighbors believe police caught the right guys. But police have said four groups of burglars are operating in the Oakland hills, so neighbors still shouldn’t let their guard down. Even if the current batch of burglars is caught, Ortiz adds, he doubts that will solve the problem indefinitely. “Criminals look up at the hills like a kid in a candy store,” he says. With so much money in the hills, and many people not taking adequate security precautions, the area will remain an attractive target for thieves.
“People still need to be diligent,” says Ramos. “Lock doors, don’t keep valuables in the open or in plain view, and be aware of vehicles maybe casing the area.” Equally important, he adds, is for people to get to know their neighbors, so they can quickly recognize if something out of the ordinary is going on.
After Nanci’s experience, she’s taking this message to heart. “I’m forming a community watch group,” she says. “I think a lot more are forming now.”
And in the meantime, she says, her family has acquired “a much better door.”
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