By Pat Cooper
It may sound like a made for TV movie- The Felony Lane Gang- but it’s all too real and Fayette County residents are going to need to be more aware than ever when they go about their daily errands if they don’t want to become victims.
On Wednesday morning, the Peachtree City Police Department arrested three men who are alleged members of the gang after a high speed chase that ended when the men drove up a dead end road.
The three men are suspected in the burglary of a car in the New Hope Baptist Church southern campus. According to church employee Ashley Bearden, it was about 9 a.m. and parents were dropping children off for the church’s Mom’s Morning Out program, when someone came in and told her that someone was outside ‘messing around’ with the cars in the parking lot.
Bearden said that Fayette resident Louis Agnotti, who had seen the suspicious activity and broken glass around one of the cars and apparently startled the thief in progress. The suspect ran, jumped into a car containing two other men and took off out of the parking lot, aiming up Highway 74 north.
Agnotti then told his wife to take out her cell phone and take a photo of the car and license plate. The couple then called 911 and sent the photo to the operator. The Fayette County Sheriff’s Office immediately sent out a BOLO (Be On The Look Out) for a red Elantra.
Within minutes, a Peachtree City patrolman spotted the car at the Avenues at the intersection of highway 74 and 54 and tried to make a stop, but the driver turned left onto Highway 54, towards Coweta County.
Lt. Detective Ethan Harper of the FCSO said the suspect’s bad turn was a good break for police.
“He was probably heading up to get on the interstate and made that wrong turn.”
Eugene Christopher Washington, 28, of Ft. Lauderdale was charged on outstanding warrants of Entering Auto, Tampering with Evidence, Identity Fraud, Financial Transaction Card Theft and Possession of Marijuana (less than one ounce). He is facing new charges of Aggravated Assault, Fleeing and Attempting to Elude (felony), Driving While License Suspended, Improper Lane Change (six counts), Disobeying a Traffic Control Device (two counts), Driving Through a Gore, and Failure to Maintain Lane.
Ronald Sylvester Washingon, 25, of Lauderdale Lakes, FL was also charged on outstanding warrants of Entering Auto, Tampering with Evidence, Identify Fraud, Financial Transaction Card Theft and Possession of Marijuana (less than one ounce).
Also arrested in the incident was Christopher Calvinlee Nelson, 30 of Fort Lauderdale. He was charged on outstanding warrants of Entering Auto, Tampering with Evidence, Identity Fraud, Financial Transaction Card Theft and Possession of Marijuana (less than one ounce).
According to Harper, the so-called Felony Lane Gang has been active in the metro Atlanta area for several years.
“Generally,” said Harper, “they come up from Florida - usually the Fort Lauderdale and Miami areas. They rent a car, drive up here, commit the crimes, then go back.”
According to the Regional Organized Crime Information Center, the Felony Lane Gang is an organized criminal group responsible for hundreds of vehicle break-ins, targeting high-value vehicles parked at fitness facilities or sports facilities. The original gang was based out of Florida, but several factions in different states have formed since.
The group, mostly black males, earned their name because, according to fraud investigators, the gang uses the farthest lane out at bank drive thrus, which is what they now call the felony lane.
Women are particularly vulnerable to this gang’s method of smash and grab, especially if they leave their purses in view of vehicle windows. As the group arrives in the targeted area, the men immediately start breaking into cars looking for pocket books, checks, drivers licenses and credit cards. They target vehicles at health clubs, tanning salons, amusement parks, and sporting events – specifically looking for vehicles where wallets are left in plain site.
“They don’t break into the car,” said Harper, “so it’s hard to get physical evidence. What they do is break a window nearest to the seat the see something on, then just reach in and grab it, jump into a waiting car and go.”
Harper said the gang recruits women - prostitutes or drug addicts frequently-, then disguises them to look like the victim, and the gang members then transport the females to the local banks where they will present the victim's driver's license and a stolen second party check.
These recruits are the ones who cash the stolen checks in the farthest lane, making it difficult for bank employees to verify if the person cashing the check matches the person on the ID.
“One of the men will either be watching the bank or be laying down in a back seat, to make sure it goes down right.”
Federal authorities are now involved as Felony Lane activity has been reported in multiple states.
Harper urges residents to be careful, particularly during the holiday shopping season. It takes these thieves only seconds to break into your vehicle and disappear, taking your personal and financial information along for the ride. To avoid being the victim of this crime, simply do not leave your purse or wallet in your car, even if you plan to return shortly.