Man who stole three cars en route to GFA lockdown remains on loose
Updated 3:26 pm, Monday, February 25, 2013
The hunt continued early this week for man believed to have stolen three vehicles in less than a day, eluding a dragnet by Westport and Fairfield police over the course of several hours Friday, and triggering a lockdown at Greens Farms Academy at the towns' border.
"We're still continuing to follow up on the information and it is still an active investigation at this time," police Capt. Sam Arciola said Monday. "Everybody would like to see him brought to justice and the important thing is that no one got hurt during the incident."
The incident began about 10:30 a.m. Friday when Westport police received a 911 call from the owner of a home on Blue Ribbon Drive. The owner reported that as she returned to the house that morning she saw an unfamiliar car parked in the driveway while her second vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee, was being driven away by a man she described to police as a tall black male wearing sunglasses.
The man apparently had been trying to break into the Blue Ribbon Drive house, Deputy Police Chief Foti Koskinas told the Westport News. The Honda the suspect drove to Westport is believed to have been stolen by the man Thursday night from the area of the Connecticut Post mall in Milford, according to Koskinas.
The complainant followed the Jeep, relaying its location to police.
At 10:35 a.m., officers dispatched in response to the call spotted the Jeep on the Sherwood Island Connector and attempted to stop it. The suspect refused to stop and headed onto Interstate 95 northbound. Westport police lost sight of the Jeep between Exits 19 and 20, but kept searching the area with assistance from Fairfield police.
A Fairfield police officer soon saw the Jeep and chased it back into Westport along local roads, where the chase was cut off on Greens Farms Road.
During their pursuit of the suspect, Westport police also issued a CodeRed alert to Greens Farms residents to be on the lookout for the Jeep.
At 12:50 p.m., a Westport patrol officer checking the area where the Jeep was last spotted saw the stolen vehicle parked in a rear lot at Greens Farms Academy, 35 Beachside Ave. The kindergarten-through-12th-grade private school was in session when the vehicle was found.
Based on the proximity of the vehicle to the school, GFA was placed on lockdown while officers assisted by several K-9 units searched the grounds and school buildings. That lockdown was imposed to ensure the safety of the school's students and faculty while police searched for the suspect, police said.
"The kids and the faculty were extremely calm and orderly, probably because we've practiced several times," said GFA spokeswoman Alison Freeland. "We're very glad that we had practiced the lockdown drills."
After the suspect abandoned the Jeep, he apparently fled the campus by stealing a black 1996 Honda Civic owned by a school security officer.
The lockdown was lifted at approximately 2:15 p.m.; by that time, police and school officials were "fairly certain" the suspect had left the area, Freeland said. Shortly after, parents were allowed to pick up their children.
A GFA student with a "prior condition" suffered a seizure at the end of the school day Friday and was then taken to Norwalk Hospital, according to Freeland. She is now "fine" and there is no evidence that the seizure was caused by the lockdown, the spokeswoman said.
Footage from the school's surveillance cameras Friday afternoon showed the suspect driving the Jeep onto the campus through the main entrance and then leaving in the Honda Civic stolen from the school lot, according to Koskinas. However, the cameras were unable to record any "identifying" images of the man, Koskinas added.
Police subsequently have not reported any new sightings of the suspect or released any additional details of his physical description.
"It would be fair to say it's financially driven, a drug dependency problem, or a combination of both," Koskinas said of the suspect's possible motives for the vehicle thefts and attempted home burglary.
Both Greens Farms Academy officials and police say they were satisfied with their response and coordination during the lockdown.
"We're very glad that we had a prior relationship with Capt. Sam Arciola," Freeland added. "He has been to the school and reviewed our security measures and talked with us about what to do in the event of an emergency. We're very thankful that we had established that relationship already."
Arciola shared a similar assessment of the incident.
"The coordination showed that there was good two-way communication," he said. "We'll continue to coordinate with the staff and make sure that our No. 1 priority is to protect kids at the schools in town."
In addition to its lockdown drills, GFA during the last year installed a new communications system with outside speakers, which can reach all students and staff, if the school needs to go into a lockdown, according to Freeland.
GFA officials have not disclosed whether or not their security guards are armed.
A security audit of the school was conducted "over a year ago" and school officials are now looking into whether they need to initiate a new security review, Freeland added.
Any witnesses or persons who may have information about the incident are asked to call the Westport Police Department's Detective Bureau at 203-341-6080.
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott