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Car-prowling vandals put neighborhood on edge

CLINTON — Lake of the Woods residents have put themselves on high alert, some even arming themselves with weapons to protect their families and property.

During the past two weeks, thieves and vandals have taken their neighborhood hostage, community members said.

Some also said they have little confidence in the Island County Sheriff’s Office’s ability to solve the problem or to make arrests, especially since names of the alleged suspects and evidence has been given to the sheriff.

Jon Beck, president of the Lake of the Woods Community Club, said the sheriff’s office should be doing more to crack down on crime in the neighborhood.

“We would hope they would be more vigilant and active in the community and in this neighborhood,” Beck said. “We really haven’t seen an increase in patrols and the community doesn’t get a lot of feedback from them with regard to what’s going on.”

In an effort to get Sheriff Mark Brown and his department more involved, Beck invited the sheriff to a special community meeting on Nov. 7.

“He replied that he would try to be here and since then, he has put out bulletins to the various groups in the South End talking about the vandalism,” he said. “But that is basically the extent of the feedback we’ve been given from the sheriff’s office.”

Taylor White said his truck was broken into, and he wasn’t happy with the sheriff’s office response.

“I had to go to work that morning. I was waiting for the cops to come and my ashtray was sitting in the middle of the road and all my stuff was spread out in the driveway,” White said.

“I left everything there because I didn’t want to disturb anything. When he arrived, he didn’t even look in my truck. He gave me a card with the case number and told me to call it in if I was missing something.”

Matt Shorey said he tried to get the sheriff’s office to investigate after someone tried to beat down his front door.

“I went up and down the road after that and the sheriff shined his light on me,” Shorey said. “I told him ‘Hey, I got a problem over here. They tried to go through my front door.’ He replied that he’d stop by afterward. I stood out in the road with my flashlight and he drove right on by and didn’t stop.”

Some residents think they know who is responsible for the string of petty crimes.

Carmen Soto said the seats in his Ford Explorer were slashed after someone foraged through the vehicle but came up empty handed.

Soto said he challenged the people he thought were responsible, but then his son’s car was targeted.

While Soto reported the vandalism of the family’s cars, others in the neighborhood have refused to call for help.

“The word is, ‘Don’t call the cops, it’s a joke,’” Soto said.

“We don’t feel safe,” he added. “The police are called and we are not satisfied with their response. We understand the police have their hands tied. But waiting until the problem is worse will cause someone to get hurt.”

The Lake of the Woods community has 58 homes. During the past two weekends, more than 18 calls from the neighborhood have been made to the 911 dispatch, said Beck. But there are more people who did not report their vandalism cases.

“A number of residents won’t report the incidents because they fear retaliation,” he said. “People have been threatened in the neighborhood before and they flat out won’t report. I know some people who feel they were specifically targeted because of retaliation.”

Brown, however, said the sheriff’s office needs people to share information that could help solve the crimes.

“People need to know it is important to step up to the plate and offer up what you know,” he said. “If you are concerned about your safety, then I will answer to those needs.”

Brown also said that while the citizens in the neighborhood may not be happy with the speed of the investigation, it is still ongoing.

His deputies need to follow procedure in order to make a proper arrest, he said.

“If I make an arrest as quickly as people want me to do it, I would go arrest somebody. I could probably do that on some slim evidence,” Brown said.

“In two days, they are going to be out,” he said. “Even if we arrested this person for vandalizing the whole neighborhood, do you think he’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison?”

Brown said he would increase patrols, and late this week, an increased police presence could be seen in the neighborhood.

Beck said there is safety in numbers.

“We are hoping that in numbers, we have power. If we get more people acting out, the sheer numbers will make a difference,” he said.

“We suspect it is someone in the neighborhood because they seem to know so many homes and which cars are unlocked. They only targeted certain areas in the community,” he said.

Residents are becoming more vigilant, he added.

“We’ve taken action and gotten a high quality surveillance system that watches our entire property,” Beck said.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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