String of burglaries rock LaPlace lawn store

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 21, 2012



LAPLACE – The St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office this week said they have arrested three people and are seeking two others in connection with a string of burglaries last month at a LaPlace lawn equipment and tractor outlet.

Sheriff Mike Tregre said deputies have been called out five times to Sunshine Equipment, located on the corner of U.S. 51 and Airline Highway near a long closed-off turning lane connecting the two roads, on reports of burglaries at the shop. He said nearly $100,000 in equipment had been stolen from the shop over a three-week period last month. The repeat hits have store manager Angela Robinson perplexed and frustrated.

“I just want to know why they kept doing it,” Robinson said. “Burglaries have never been a problem here before. In a few incidents, they just pulled right up to the gate and forced their way in.”

Tregre said lawn equipment like the pieces that were stolen become a hot item in the summer months. He said lawn services are in high demand, and the equipment is highly sought.

 “You start to see in increase in lawn equipment thefts over the summer,” Tregre said. “They are high profile items.”

Tregre said the burglaries began on June 19 when a group of juveniles allegedly broke into a gated yard next to the shop and got away with five John Deere Gators, a small motorized utility truck. Deputies later recovered the vehicles after a search of the area.

The next evening, deputies on patrol spotted what appeared to be three juveniles riding on John Deere Gators on Cardinal Drive in LaPlace. Upon seeing the officers, the juveniles fled into a heavily wooded area. Deputies were able to apprehend two of the juveniles and brought them into the Sheriff’s Office for questioning with their parents. Tregre said one of the juveniles confessed and led officers to two other Gators that were also stolen.

Tregre said as the investigation continued it was determined that the three juveniles spotted by deputies were involved in both burglaries.  

He said a 15-year-old was booked with two counts of theft and one count of criminal damage to property. A 14-year-old later turned himself in and was booked with criminal damage to property and theft over $1,500. Both were detained at he St. James Youth Detention Center.

Tregre said investigators are still searching for a 16-year-old in connection with those incidents.

The burglaries continued the following week when, on June 28, employees reported that three John Deere self propelled lawn mowers, valued at $500 each, and two John Deere Z225 Zero-turn-radius lawn mowers, each valued at $2,899, had been stolen the night before.

Tregre said authorities had video surveillance that showed two men in a maroon and tan truck pull up to the shop’s gate. One man used a bolt cutter to enter the yard and load the items into a utility trailer attached to the truck.

At that point, detectives began surveillance on the shop and at 11:55 on July 10, detective Walter Stevens spotted a vehicle pull up to the gate fitting the description of the previous burglary. One man carrying a bolt cutter approached the gate and cut the lock. Stevens alerted officers and they converged on the property.

Deputies arrested Larry Bratton, 47, of Phyllis Drive in Avondale. He was booked with simple burglary and felony theft and is being held at the Sherman Walker Correctional Facility in LaPlace on an $80,000 bond.

Tregre said the second suspect, identified as Bryant Shelvin, 46, of Avondale, escaped from the scene. An arrested warrant has been issued for Shelvin, who, according to authorities, has an extensive violent criminal history.

Tregre said a fifth burglary also was captured on video and is still under investigation. The suspect in that case escaped with another John Deere Gator. Tregre said he hoped the arrests will send a message to would-be thieves.

Robinson, meanwhile, said she is adding more security on the property, including more lighting. She said she hopes the remaining suspects can be apprehended soon.

“I’m certainly happy with the progress, but it isn’t over yet,” Robinson said. “There is still one guy out there.”

Tregre said anyone coming in contact with Shelvin or who has knowledge of his whereabouts is asked to contact the nearest law enforcement agency or Crimestoppers at 504-822-1111.