Rash of smash-and-grab robberies target small businesses

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- For the fourth time this week, another business is left bashed-up by crooks looking to make a quick buck. It's a problem some business owners know all too well.

In north Houston, Jason Barrow is helping his neighbors pick up the pieces of an all too familiar problem.

As he picked up bricks from a bashed-in washateria, Barrow said, "Look at this property damage, man. Look at all this damage."

For the second time in less than two months, the washateria in the 100 block of East Little York has been hit by smash-and-grab thieves.

The damage from such crimes hitting small business owners especially hard.

Barrow said, "This ain't right. People (are) working hard."

Washateria customer Tasha Celestine said, "They don't give no people no hard time. They're good people. ... Good people period."

It doesn't take a lot of brains to commit these crimes, Fenoglio reported. He explained people basically back a vehicle into a business and grab whatever they can.

But those who commit the crimes are fairly bold. The truck used in the crime today was stolen just this morning.

Miguel Zimedio, the truck theft victim, said, "I wake up about 5am. I hear the ignition on my truck, and then I see my truck gone."

But these victims aren't alone. Earlier Wednesday morning, there was another attempted smash-and-grab on Airline Drive in north Houston.

It happened at the #1 Convenience Store located on Goodson at Airline.

Police say the crooks used a stolen van to back into the store. The thieves then attempted to steal the store's ATM, but they were unsuccessful.

The group then ditched the van nearby and left the scene in a second vehicle.

Police are now looking at surveillance video to try to identify the crooks.

There's been a smash-and-grab theft every day this week with the same method, no suspects and devastating damage.

Police say thieves are after ATMs, alcohol, whatever they can grab.

"Any time there's an ATM left in a store, a crook is going to think they can get a big score out of that," Deputy Thomas Gilliland said.

Chris Tipton has worked in the ATM business for the last 10 years in Houston. He said gas stations can make a profit quickly from ATM machines.

"I'm guessing three-to-four grand in four months," Tipton said, "So they more than pay for their ATM, and it's pure profit after that."

It is profitable unless a store is hit by smash-and-grab criminals. Owners can end up paying $50,000 in damages. Tipton said the best way to make a business less of a target is to move the ATM to the back of the store. Store owners can also buy ATMs with extra security features.

"At different locations, we have alarm systems on them. When you tilt them over, you've got a 120 decibel siren that goes off," Tipton said, "We've also got GPS systems you can put in them, so you can track them when they're moved."

According to Deputy Gilliland, many store owners are getting smarter by taking the money out of the ATMs at night. Gilliland said as long as criminals can see the ATMs through the glass, this type of crime will keep on happening.

Eyewitness News has requested information from the Houston Police Department on the number of smash-and-grab type robberies in the last few months. A spokesman for the department said Wednesday detectives are working on fulfilling that request.

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