[at-l] TN thieves head to jail for AT trailhead incidents

RockDancer rockdancer97 at comcast.net
Wed Feb 1 19:23:19 CST 2012

>From www.smokymountainnews.com Wednesday, 01 February 2012  - The article
also mentions "tent break-ins", something I haven't heard about before. -
Arthur / RockDancer 

Hikers' cars hit by thieves: Trailhead safety becomes focus after recent
"car clout" convictions

Three Tennessee residents are headed to prison for breaking into a slew of
cars at trailheads in Haywood County during a several month period, hitting
hiker's vehicles in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Pisgah
National Forest.

The three stole credit and debit cards, and ran up charges on them, while
the unsuspecting victims were off happily hiking . often for several days at
a time. Other personal items were stolen, too, including a man's billfold
and, most brazenly, a U.S. government credit card from a U.S. Forest Service
employee's vehicle.

Their arrests and subsequent prosecutions have put renewed focus on what you
should do, and not do, when parking a vehicle before taking a hike or
backpacking trip.

The main thing is to "use common sense," said avid hiker Cory McCall of
Outdoor 76, an outfitter store in Franklin. "These trails do cross roads,
and you often leave your car in vulnerable places."

McCall is currently helping an Appalachian Trail thru hiker try to decide on
a safe spot to leave her vehicle in Macon County for an extended period of
time. That might not be completely possible, but there are steps hikers such
as that can take, according to forest experts.

And here's what the victims of the relatively recent break-ins didn't do:
they failed to take valuables out of their vehicles.

That meant when the Tennessee trio - Billy Chad Reese, 39, his wife, Christy
Leann Reese and Jessica Hope Daniels - systematically smashed the
passenger-side windows of cars at trailheads, they were amply rewarded for
their criminal intentions. Specifically, they hit trailheads at Big Creek in
the Smokies and Max Patch and Harmon Den in the Pisgah National Forest.

They would hit as many as five cars at the trailhead at one time. They would
then go back into Cocke County, Tenn. and promptly use the cards to buy
everything from cigarettes to jewelry.

When it comes to protecting visitors to the national forest lands and the
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, law enforcement officers with both
agencies are taking a hold-no-prisoners stance.

And that focus is paying off: In the Smokies alone, more than 100 people in
the past decade have been prosecuted for car break-ins, dubbed "car clouts,"
at trail heads.

"That makes a big dent," said Clay Jordan, chief ranger for the Park.

Sure does: The Smokies used to average about 100 car clouts per year. That
number dropped to 37 incidents in 2010 and 14 in 2011.

"We have a cadre of rangers and special agents who are very attuned to it,"
Jordan said of Park personnel's attention to trail heads and visitor safety.

That's true, too, of workers on the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests.
Stevin Wescott, who oversees public relations for the U.S. Forest Service in
this area, said extensive efforts are oriented toward educating hikers. But,
still, the fact remains that "it is pretty clear that theft is probably the
most reported crime" in the national forests.

"We are always trying to encourage people to be safe," Wescott said. "It's
very sad when (theft) happens. Our officers feel terrible for the people."

Echoing McCall from Outdoor 76, Wescott said that visitors "should try to
leave their valuables at home. If they must leave them in their car, tuck
them out of site. Bring only the bare essentials."

That advice holds true on the trail, too, the U.S. Forest ranger said. Tent
break-ins also occur.

Smokies Chief Ranger Jordan said law enforcement is able to successfully
prosecute most offenders. The crime, which is a felony offense prosecuted in
the federal court system, carries a prison term. On average, those found
guilty typically receive a six- to 12-month sentence plus three years
probation, Jordan said.

The Tennessee man, Reese, pleaded guilty in August and was recently
sentenced to serve more than 10 years in prison by a U.S. district judge and
pay $23,000 in restitution. Reese received such a stiff sentence because of
prior burglary convictions. When arrested, Reese was unlawfully in
possession of a handgun. This meant he received an "enhanced" sentence under
the federal Armed Career Criminal Act.

His female accomplices are scheduled Feb. 27 for sentencing.


Trailhead-safety tips

. Remove valuables from vehicles.

. If you must leave valuables in vehicles, hide them out of sight in the
glove compartment or trunk.

. Scan the trailhead to make sure no one suspicious is hanging about. If
they are, consider moving to another trailhead.

. Do not leave a hiking itinerary on your dash. Leave it with friends,
family or at a ranger station.

. Don't back your car into a parking spot. This provides thieves cover to
break into the trunk.



Arthur D. Gaudet

RockDancer on the Appalachian Trail

Rockdancer97 at comcast.net


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