Total arrests in car thefts grow, ring larger than expected

The month of May brought a rash of burglaries and other thefts to the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office. The ensuing investigation has netted a dozen arrests and broken up a car-theft ring and chop-shop operation.

“Initially, back in the early part of May we noticed a big increase in burglaries and just larcenies and thefts in the Green Pond, the northern end of Gray Court and the northern end of Laurens County,” LCSO Chief Deputy Jarvis Reeder said. “We knew something was going on because it was out the ordinary.”

Some six weeks later, 12 people are in jail on an assortment of charges involving burglary, larceny and drugs. This past week, LCSO deputies arrested Bryan Eugene Dillishaw, Dartagnan Pruitt and Kayla Dawn Armstrong to bring the total of arrests to an even dozen.

Pruitt was in possession of a motorcycle stolen from Charlotte, N.C. and a Honda Accord reported stolen from neighboring Anderson County.

Reeder said once the pattern of thefts and break-ins was discovered in northern Laurens County, deputies saturated the area with as many as 15-20 patrol units.

Those additional units had been in the area about 20 minutes when they found what they were looking for.

On June 8, the case began cascade with the arrest of Michael Alan Ford, of Fountain Inn. He led deputies on a car chase that also led them to more evidence and more arrests.

“We were able to set up a perimeter in the area pretty quickly and keep (Ford) contained,” Reeder said. “Our bloodhound units were able to track him, and it led us to another place right across the street he was trying to get to, and it contained a stolen car, so we were able to lock those guys up, too.”

Three other people from Laurens and Gray Court were arrested that same day and six automobiles – all from Simpsonville – were recovered along with a motorcycle.

Reeder said the chop shop operation was taking vehicles apart in order to sell part, while others were being sold whole with altered or removed factory identification numbers.

A day later, three more arrests followed, including William Elbert Blackwell, Jr., of Fountain Inn, who was charged with operating a chop shop and possession of and receiving stolen goods.

“On that first day, once the ball started rolling, we started realizing that what we had was something a whole lot bigger than what we thought,” he said.

Reeder said the investigation was complicated by the geography of northern Laurens County, which abuts Greenville County.

“They may stay on the radar in Laurens County a little bit, but they weren’t known to Simpsonville,” Reeder said. “Or they were known to Simpsonville but not to us. It was kind of a mixed bag of things because they were going back and forth across the county line, stealing over there and taking to here or stealing here and bringing it there.”

Reeder the investigative units led by Capt. Robert Wilkie and Lt. Ben Blackmon persevered, working long hours to make progress in the case.

“These guys spent a lot of time way from their families – it was long days, and we appreciate that,” he said.

While some vehicles have been recovered, smaller items from the rash of related burglaries remain unaccounted for.

“We haven’t located all that yet because we know they were trading or selling household goods, jewelry and stuff like that to support their drug habit,” Reeder said.

Laurens County Sheriff Don Reynolds praised the efforts of his deputies during still-ongoing investigation.

“I am very proud of the my deputies of this office,” Reynolds said. “They have worked both day and night for the past few weeks, trying to disrupt this crime ring. We will continue to arrest andy and all individuals that may be associated with this group.”

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