“Test drive bandit” continues area crime spree

Car dealers in St Augustine and St Johns County tell local Historic City News reporters that they are on “high alert” after a series of recent vehicle thefts where the thief didn’t have to break into the cars — he convinced the dealers to hand him the keys.

The last reported sighting of the “test drive bandit” happened just before 2:00 p.m. yesterday at Atlantic Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep on US-1 South.

Witnesses said that a man, claiming to be a physician, in his early to mid-60’s, drove onto the lot at their dealership behind the wheel of a 2000 Pontiac Firebird. Looking to upgrade to something newer, the salesperson was more than happy to steer the customer in the direction of a dark blue 2012 Dodge Challenger with white “racing” stripes.

After a brief sales pitch, the customer said that he had to see for himself. As anyone would expect, the unassuming, potential buyer was handed the keys to the Challenger to take it for spin.

As a few minutes turned into a half-hour, and then an hour with no word from the customer, everyone on the sales team felt that sinking feeling that comes when you suspect that you’ve been snookered.

Those fears were confirmed when the sales manager determined that the Firebird driven by the customer, before he left for his test drive, had been taken from Sunset Auto on Ponce de Leon Boulevard earlier in the morning in a similar scam.

The car left at Sunset Auto had been taken from another dealership in Jacksonville. It was located with assistance from OnStar.

Investigators from the St Augustine City Police and St Johns County Sheriff’s Office are looking for a white man about 60-65 years old, between 5’10-6’01 tall, with a receding hairline, salt and pepper hair, last seen wearing khaki shorts and a blue button up shirt.

Your guess is as good as theirs is as to what he may be driving today.

Anyone with information concerning these crimes is asked to contact the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office at (904) 824-8304. You can remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a cash reward by calling CrimeStoppers of Northeast Florida at 1-888-277-TIPS (8477).

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