Two St Augustine and St Johns County automobile dealers are still scratching their heads; trying to figure out why it was so simple for the “Test Drive Bandit” to leave their lots with vehicles last week — but new evidence that may help identify the guilty party has been released to Historic City News from Jacksonville Police Sergeant David J Valentine.
The still unknown subject walks with a limp, is 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 according to investigators from the St Augustine Police Department and St Johns County Sheriff’s Office.
Nobody is certain where or when this bandit began his crime spree, however a timeline of what we do know is outlined below.
April 19: Detective Scott Bertzyk with the Gainesville Police Department takes a report from a Gainesville car dealer that a nicely dressed white male entered their dealership and told the salesman that he is a doctor. During the conversation, he used the term “Flagler” as if associated with Flagler Hospital or Flagler College. He took a car for a test drive and did not return.
April 28: Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officer S.C. Rhatigan recovered the 2011 Nissan 370Z that was stolen from the car dealer in Gainesville. The car was located at America’s Best Inn at 8220 Dix Ellis Trail. Inside the vehicle, police discover two stolen tags — one from Volusia County and another from Alachua County.
May 1: A cell phone is stolen from Heartland Health Care Center of South Jacksonville located at 3648 South University Boulevard. The bandit is the prime suspect.
May 2: At 9:04 a.m., a Chevrolet Camaro is reported stolen from Jerry Ham Chevrolet located at 3494 Phillips Highway in Jacksonville. The same modus operandi is employed.
Later that morning, with assistance from the OnStar navigation system installed, police locate the stolen Camaro at Sunset Auto on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. Unfortunately, they are too late to nab the thief — he left the Camaro at Sunset Auto, and then drove off in a red 2000 Pontiac Firebird displaying a Florida tag “410IUS”. The St Augustine Police Department enters the stolen tag into the Florida Crime Information and National Crime Information Centers.
Just before 2:00 p.m. the “test drive bandit” reappears at Atlantic Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep on US-1 South with the stolen Firebird. The culprit drove off their lot in a dark blue 2012 Dodge Challenger with white “racing” stripes displaying a Florida tag “A319PP”.
Sergeant David J Valentine said they know that the man has been committing multiple crimes in Gainesville, Jacksonville and St Augustine. Police believe the bandit is a crack cocaine user. Valentine said the man has separately stolen tags, and then matches them to his stolen cars.
Video surveillance of the Test Drive Bandit was captured when he entered a Gate Station in Jacksonville to return antifreeze for a refund that he had taken from the store earlier.
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).