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Residents fight back as burglary cases shoot up on Whidbey Island

Reported burglaries in the north precinct of the Island County Sheriff’s Office this year to date. - Data provided by Island County Sheriff
Reported burglaries in the north precinct of the Island County Sheriff’s Office this year to date.
— image credit: Data provided by Island County Sheriff

A spate of burglaries in rural areas of Whidbey Island has a group of residents considering unique ways to protect themselves.

Some have even been doing their own detective work.

Four men and a woman gathered at the Whidbey News-Times recently to discuss what they see as a dangerous problem on the island that’s only been getting worse. Several of them are repeat victims and none of the crimes have been solved, leading some to take matters into their own hands.

“It’s mine, and by God, they are not going to do it again,” North Whidbey resident Valli Eichstedt said of the burglar, or burglars, who struck her barn.

“It’s going to take everyone using their eyes, their ears and their brains to put an end to this.”

Lt. Evan Tingstad with the Island County Sheriff’s Office said there is a noticeable increase in residential burglaries in both North and South Whidbey in the last seven to eight months.

Between June 1 to Dec. 11, a total of 105 burglaries were reported in the north precinct, which covers Whidbey north of Houston Road and doesn’t include Oak Harbor or Coupeville. That compared to 86 the same period in 2012 and 97 burglaries during that period in 2011.

Sheriff Mark Brown said the statistics represent the number of burglaries reported by residents, but the actual number may be something different once deputies investigate.

Tingstad said he sees the burglary increase as a direct result of budget cuts and the loss of 10 deputies since 2008. He said it’s “incredibly important” to have a detective dedicated to drug crimes, but that position was lost in the layoffs.

“In law enforcement, we always see a connection between effective drug investigations and the number of property crimes,” he said.

Tingstad said north precinct deputies are working on an action plan for dealing with the burglaries and thefts.

Meanwhile, the burglary victims said they’ve invested in security, have increased vigilance and are doing some investigating.

A Rolling Hills resident whose home was hit four times this year said a larger group of burglary victims plan to get together to share information and help out one another.

“We’re are talking about coordinating, spreading the word, doing our own investigating,” he said. The resident said he doesn’t want his name published because he’s worried about being targeted further.

South Whidbey resident Rufus Rose, whose home was burglarized in the fall, suggested that residents offer a reward for information leading to the conviction of burglars. He did a lot of digging into his burglary — and has a theory about a suspect — but found nothing definitive.

Clay Miller, the manager broker of Windermere in Coupeville, proposed that law-and-justice officials create a task force dedicated to solving the problem.

Nothing will change until the “culture of the island” changes, he said, and would-be burglars need to know that there’s a likelihood they will get caught and that the punishment will be great.

They all had chainsaws stolen and wonder about tracking the black market in such tools.

Eichstedt said she is among many residents of the Zylstra Road area who became victims of burglary during the last few months. But, she said, it’s nothing new.

Burglars have “gone up and down the road” many times in the past, she said.

Eichstedt said she went to the barn to feed her horse in the morning of Oct. 21 and quickly realized that something wasn’t right. A chainsaw, a pair of woman’s chest waders and other small items were missing.

The deputy who responded to her call told her it was likely the burglar or burglars would return, she said.

Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, she was lying in bed when she had a feeling that something wasn’t right. She went out to drive to the barn and her headlights illuminated two cars parked outside it; they quickly drove away.

She said she believes another attempt was made two weeks after that.

Eichstedt said she’s been extra vigilant since the burglary and is taking extraordinary precautions, though she doesn’t want the specifics public. She’s drives the neighborhood at night and shoos out suspicious people parked in suspicious places.

Miller said he had a property near Eichstedt that was burglarized the same night. The intruder took a chainsaw and other items.

He had a night-vision game camera set up that captured an image of the burglar, but it wasn’t detailed enough for a positive identification.

Not long afterward, he was walking to the gas station for a cup of coffee when he saw a guy with a Nissan Stanza at the pumps with his chainsaw. He questioned the man, who claimed he got the tool from his girlfriend.

Miller went around the corner and called the police.

He said it took 10 minutes for an officer to arrive, but, by that time, the man and his girlfriend were gone.

A week later, Miller said he spotted the same man at a bus stop on State Highway 525 at Smugglers Cove Road. He called 911, but was told a deputy would call him back.

He said he never got a return call.

Dennis Bullock is yet another person to have property burglarized in the Zylstra Road area Oct. 20 or 21, though the intruders only managed to remove screens off a barn this time.

In the past, the thieves got away with three chainsaws and other items.

“Other than the irritation and monetary loss, I’m concerned that someone is going to get shot,” he said.

 

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