Hillsborough investigators say 'car hopping,' underage crime increasing

RIVERVIEW, Fla.  (WFLA) -  It's a problem that's getting out of control in parts of Hillsborough County.

Investigators with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office say in the last two months 46 cars and trucks were reported stolen in the Riverview area, most of them from residential subdivisions, as well as businesses along Bloomingdale Avenue.

Most of the crimes took place during the night as the thieves went on burglary sprees. Deputies arrested 14 people. Most of those suspects are juveniles. They face a combined total of 50 felony charges.

Investigators call  these crimes "car hopping." Underage thieves walk down the street and try to open car doors. Once they find an unlocked car, they steal everything inside. If the keys are inside, they'll take the car too.

Investigators say 46 vehicles that were stolen were left unlocked. Of those, 42 vehicles had the keys inside. In the remaining four cases, the keys were found inside another car in the driveway.

Alex Costa, of Riverview, had his Hyundai Elantra stolen right out of his driveway. It ended up a total loss nearly an hour away in Clearwater.

Costa said he's not surprised a majority of the thieves in these cases were teens. "Teenagers, they to do taboo things. They like to do things you're not supposed to do to get a thrill out of it," he said.

"Let mine be an example," Costa added. "This is something that can happen, so there's nothing wrong with being prepared and just being smart."

Investigators say underage crime in Hillsborough County is on the rise. "Some of these juveniles don't realize that this is life-changing," Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Spokeswoman Cristal Nunez said. "These are felony charges. "

In May News Channel 8 showed you another example of car hopping. The kids in this case were caught on camera as they rummaged through nearly two dozen vehicles in Riverview and Apollo Beach.

Investigators say the kids aren't the only ones to blame. "It just goes to show that people do not think it's going to happen to them or, 'I've done it for years; they're not going to break in or they won't find it there,'" Nunez said about people who become complacent.

Deputies recovered four firearms stolen from vehicles.

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