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Before and During the Storm: Robberies

An electrician, plumber and general contractor living on the same block are targets of a spate of brazen robberies.

Last Wednesday, Joel Kelley lay asleep in his cozy, two-bedroom Eagle Rock home, blissfully unaware that he would be unable to go to work the following morning.

The worst windstorms in L.A.’s living memory were still about 20 hours away, so natural causes had nothing to do with what came between Kelley and his job as an electrical contractor. Rather, what prevented Kelley from going to work was an incident for which Eagle Rock is fast gaining notoriety: property crimes.

As Kelley slumbered in his house on the 4800 block of Floristan Avenue, a car drove up and parked alongside his pickup truck on the street outside. Several men got out and, with their car’s engine still running, approached the driver’s side of Kelley’s pickup.

55-Second Operation

Based on footage captured on a surveillance camera that Kelley has installed on his property (see accompanying video), the men took all of 55 seconds to get out of their car, open the three bins on the left side of the pickup, remove all the equipment and tools inside, put them into their waiting car and drive off brazenly into the night.

Aside from the video footage and the wide-open bins, with their flaps hanging down, there was no evidence of forced entry or robbery. The culprits appear to have used a master key to open the bins’ locks—so silently that not even the two precocious Boston terriers that live with Kelley in his house heard a thing.

Another Robbery The Previous Night

And get this: Just the previous night—on Tuesday, November 29—Brandon Ives, a plumber who’s Kelley’s next-door neighbor, suffered almost exactly the same fate: His plumbing tools, says Ives, were robbed from his pickup truck parked on the street in front of his house.

You’d think that after all this, the robbers would never be seen again in Eagle Rock, let alone on the same block of Floristan Avenue, between Colorado Boulevard and Yosemite Drive. But no, they were back again the following night—the night of the storm.

And not once—but twice.

Three Robberies in Three Nights

The first time around, they drove up outside the home of Stuart London, a general contractor who, like Kelley, parks one of his two pick-up trucks on the street. It was around midnight and the storm had yet to reach the peak of its fury in the early hours of Thursday. But some of the furniture in the backyard of London’s home had begun to blow around and the British-born contractor had woken up to secure it.

Well aware of what had happened to his neighbors during the previous two nights, London decided to take a quick look at his truck on the street. When he opened the door, London says he saw “palm fronds shooting out over” from the tall trees lining Fair Park Avenue, which crosses Floristan almost exactly in front of his house.

Same Car, Same Modus Operandi

To London’s utter shock and surprise, the same white-colored car whose image had been captured on Kelley’s surveillance camera was parked alongside his pickup. “I saw the driver and there was one guy who was out of the car,” recalls London, speaking in a Liverpool accent faintly reminiscent of the Beatles. “As soon as I opened my door I heard the door of the car slam and they took off.”

London got into his truck and chased the car, which, he believes, is a Ford Thunderbird. But the robbers had vanished.

They returned at around 3:30 a.m., according to the crime report that London filed at the LAPD Northeast Community Station, where detectives are investigating the incident but have no leads so far. And in what London believes was a repeat of what happened to Kelley, the robbers opened the three bins on the driver’s side of his pickup with a master key and made away with everything inside.

Goods Worth $1,000 Stolen

“There was no forced entry and they didn’t make a sound,” says London, adding that neither he, his fiancé nor their dog heard anything. London estimates around $1,000 worth of his construction tools were stolen.

“It’s a shame what’s going on,” says London, who has lived in Eagle Rock for the past six years and, despite being the victim of a property crime, loves the neighborhood.

“Normally, it’s not that big a deal if you lose a thousand dollars worth of something—you can throw it on a credit card and move on,” says London. “But there’s an unwritten rule in the construction industry that says you do not steal another man’s tools—they’re his livelihood, his bread and butter.”

Watching Out For Each Other

A Neighborhood Watch sign on the sidewalk directly in front of London’s house is a grim, if starkly ironic reminder that despite residents’ best efforts to protect themselves, property crimes are an almost inescapable reality in and around Eagle Rock. (In November alone, 28 property crimes—from burglaries to car thefts—were reported in Eagle Rock, according to Crimemapping.com, a website to which law enforcement agencies across the nation, including the LAPD, report crime statistics almost as soon as they are available.)

London and his neighbors are hardly resigned to their fates, however. They keep a close watch on each other’s properties and even share a sense of camaraderie that comes from having suffered similar fates.

“God forbid, if we catch these guys,” says London. “They won’t be picking up anything for a long time.”

Whether Eagle Rock will cease to be one of L.A.’s leading property crime capitals remains a bigger, arguably more worrisome question.

jayres December 06, 2011 at 03:22 PM
“God forbid, if we catch these guys,” says London. “They won’t be picking up anything for a long time.” That sentiment sounds like the kind of vigilantism that I hear from too many Angelenos these days. Its a sentiment that comes from people who feel that thieves are never held to account in this city. For a variety of reasons, these types of crimes go unsolved and unpunished and the victims are getting frustrated and now angry. The financial loss, the helplessness, and the general vulnerability to community will only be tolerated for so long before people decide they will not accept the situation. Where are the police? Handing out traffic tickets? We get robbed on both ends, I guess.
Rob Schraff December 06, 2011 at 05:27 PM
I hope these guys aren't running illegal, unlicensed businesses out of their homes and that Michael Larsen doesn't find out about it.
Jose Burgos December 06, 2011 at 06:07 PM
Mr. London is entilted to protect his property, including the use of force. I would feel the same way if someone invaded and stole my property.
jayres December 06, 2011 at 06:31 PM
I'm not suggesting that individuals aren't entitled to protect their property, and I am clearly not suggesting he rely on a police force that seems to engage the law abiding citizenry only when they need to fill their fundraising/traffic ticket quota. I am simply making an observation that I have heard from many people the feeling that if they don't do it themselves, no else will. I have long held the belief that the more money you spend on local taxes, the less services you actually get in return from the city, and on the flip side the less tax contributing areas of LA seem to receive the lions share(or at least a grossly disproportionate amount) of city services. I want to see a more proactive and protective presence in Eagle Rock.
rebecca niederlander December 06, 2011 at 07:12 PM
What on earth is the point of such a troll comment? Eagle Rockers need to stick together, especially in the face of crisis. It is one of the things we do well, and one of the reasons we are such an amazing neighborhood.
Rob Schraff December 06, 2011 at 07:49 PM
All businesses in the city of LA are required to be licensed, all contractors are required to be licensed by the state. What's good for the marijuana clinic is good for the plumber and electrician. Also note the obvious social problems these illegal businesses cause - additional burdens on street parking, potential violation of city code, and the crime that is attracted by such illegal businesses - as well as lost income to the city from fees. (I also seem to clearly indicate I don't give a flip, and it's the likes of Mr. Larsen that regularly make these sort of arguments. Was this attempt at satirizing Mr. Larsen and his Eagle Rock law and order nonsense police more on target?)
LA BRIT December 06, 2011 at 08:44 PM
Rob, just to set the record straight, we are all bonded, licensed and insured. Enough said.
Maria Garcia December 07, 2011 at 04:49 AM
I think you are missing the entire point of this article, which to alert locals in our neighborhood of the crime that is occurring around them and to be on the alert. I'm sure had it occurred to you, you wouldn't be writing such "troll comments"
Rob Schraff December 07, 2011 at 05:48 AM
What crime "occurring around them"? Do you mean only the theft of materials and tools? And even if we accept Mr. London's claims above - what about businesses unlicensed by the City of Los Angeles? Not to mention obvious business parking on residential streets? Also, of course it is no accident that Mr. London and his neighbors tool-laden trucks were targeted by these pathetic criminal losers. So, why also demand extra police protection for such businesses based in residential neighborhoods - instead of areas zoned for such activities? Let's also not lose sight of the many code-related problems caused by the numerous unlicensed contractors (clearly, NOT Mr. London and his neighbors) in Northeast Los Angeles area, and the many failures of city oversight of these issues. Including an ongoing federal investigation of the LA City Department of Building and Safety.

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