A detective’s decision to buy a cheap cup of coffee led to the apprehension of two men suspected in dozens of car prowls in Oak Harbor.
Last year, three detectives with the Oak Harbor Police Department and the Navy police were investigating more than 50 nighttime vehicle break-ins in Oak Harbor and base housing from September to early December. The suspects stole purses, electronic devices and other items from unlocked cars.
Detective Ron Hofkamp said the detectives had numerous images of the two suspects from store surveillance tapes. The men used stolen credit cards to purchase items at various stores in town, as well as rent DVDs from Red Box.
The problem was, nobody could identify the men. Their photos were passed around to all the patrol officers, but nobody recognized them.
Then Hofkamp stopped at the 7-Eleven store at the south end of town on Dec. 12, which is part of his early-morning routine on the way to work.
He saw two men walking into the parking lot and immediately recognized them as his suspects.
He called a patrol officer to contact and, ultimately, arrest the two men, identified as 23-year-old Jason T. Campbell and 29-year-old Lawrence Latta, according to Hofkamp.
Hofkamp said police searched the men and found three allegedly stolen credit cards on Campbell and another one on Latta; the cards all belonged to women whose cars were prowled. Hofkamp said it appeared that the men had just committed a series of vehicle prowls when they were arrested.
In an interview with the detective, Latta blamed Campbell for stealing items from vehicles, according to the report written by Hofkamp.
Campbell admitted to “doing vehicle prowls,” but said Latta was always with him when he committed the crimes, according to the report.
Hofkamp obtained a search warrant for the men’s apartment and found numerous stolen items, including iPods, GPS units, victims’ IDs and 51 Red Box DVDs.
Hofkamp arrested Campbell on suspicion of 59 criminal counts, including identity theft, vehicle prowl and possession of stolen property. Latta was arrested on suspicion of 25 counts.
Prosecutors charged both Campbell and Latta in Island County Superior Court with three counts of identify theft, thee counts of second-degree theft and three counts of possession of stolen property in the second degree.
If convicted of the charges against them, both men could face more than four years in prison under the standard sentencing range.
Hofkamp said it’s possible that more charges will be added against the men in the future as he completes his reports.
In addition, Hofkamp said he hasn’t been able to identify the owners of some of the stolen loot he recovered. He said people who’ve had possessions stolen from their cars and didn’t report it should contact the Oak Harbor police at 360-279-4500.