The jolting sound blaring from my phone was one of those calls that shakes you out of a deep sleep. Immediately, two thoughts rushed through my mind, “Who died?” and “What happened at the club?”
“Mr. Walker, someone stole four of our E-Z-GO golf cars and chargers last night,” said Monta Sokolovska, head golf professional at California Country Club.
During my drive to the club, I prepared myself for the day’s challenges. I kept thinking about how the thefts could have happened. Was it a disgruntled former employee who knew our cart barn layout? Was it some of the neighborhood kids who walked in and drove the cars out the front gate? How had they gotten through the gate? Was it just vandalism and joyrides, or was this a more nefarious attempt to steal the cars and sell them online?
What I hadn’t prepared for — leading police to a Grand Theft suspect with the help from our stolen golf cars.
Our E-Z-GO car fleet was less than two months old, and the four stolen cars had a value of more than $25,000 – we were determined to get our cars back. The first piece of the “who done it” puzzle came from our surveillance video. Cameras captured a flatbed tow truck coming through the front gate around 4 a.m. The driver pulled the tow truck into the parking lot and positioned it outward in the driveway, poised to make an escape. We saw a lone figure get out of the truck and walk around the corner of the cart barn, out of the camera’s view. 20 minutes later, he re-enters the camera’s view. This time, he is driving the first of our four E-Z-GO golf cars. Within a half-hour period, the burglar and our golf cars were gone.
It was almost noon when Monta called me, “Mr. Walker, I found three of our golf cars!”
Fortunately, our new fleet of E-Z-GO cars were fitted with Textron Fleet Management. When Monta turned on the system, she was able to track the last signal to Azusa, Calif. She saw the last “ping” signal occurred around 9:30 a.m. “Let’s go find the cars,” I said.
We logged onto the Textron Fleet Management website on our smart phones and tracked the vehicles to a neighborhood 14 miles away from the club. As I rounded the corner of 6th and Pasadena streets, our eyes saw the distinctive grill of the empty flatbed tow truck that had been at the club. Erring on the side of caution, I drove a half-block down the street and called the local police; within minutes, help arrived.
I explained the entire story to the police officers and showed them how we trailed our E-Z-GO fleet via the website. The Textron Fleet Management site displayed an orange trail of where the carts had traveled from California Country Club, up the 605 Freeway, east on the 210, and then into the residential neighborhood. The system showed that the cars had gone around the block a couple times, before the last GPS signal died.
A police officer walked around the house where the tow truck was parked, but couldn’t see any golf cars. The officer told us our options, “We could knock on the door, but three things could happen: they don’t answer, they refuse to talk, or they won’t let us inspect their alley or garage. Without a warrant, we are pretty much at a dead end.”
I searched the GPS trail on my phone for further clues, and I found them. The fourth unit was still sending a signal from a block away. One of the police officers got into his cruiser to investigate. Within a couple of minutes, the police officer radioed back, “I found your four golf cars. It’s clear for you guys to come forward.”
The four E-Z-GO RXV golf cars had been carelessly hidden behind a large carport; they still had our California Country Club logos on the hood and scorecards on the steering wheel. The burglar did think to get rid of three GPS units; the wires had been cut and the units ripped from the mounting brackets, and were gone. He apparently thought that cutting the cable would disable the signal. The fourth unit was still sending a signal thanks to the internal lithium batteries. An officer discovered it in the apartment’s laundry room; the unit was in the trash, covered with lint.
By now, the officers had identified the suspect’s apartment and were on his front porch interviewing him. Another group of sheriffs’ detectives were at California Country Club reviewing the surveillance video, and ordered a search warrant. Investigators told me that once inside the suspect’s apartment, they found a stack of license plates and a stash of stolen personal property. They said the tow-truck itself had been stolen less than 48 hours earlier, and the suspect had been on a rampage of stealing automobiles, along with our four E-Z-GO golf cars.
There is a happy ending to this story — we recovered our stolen cars, and a serial auto thief was put behind bars. We also learned some valuable lessons that warrant sharing:
1. Club Security: Make frequent changes to gate and security codes at your club as staff changes occur. We realized our gate entry codes hadn’t been updated in a while, which probably made us vulnerable.
2. Surveillance Cameras: Review your security camera coverage around the club to ensure that camera angles capture as much of the parking lot, cart staging and other important areas as possible. Make sure you have cameras in your golf car barn.
3. Golf Car Barn: Ensure barn doors have metal plates protecting the latch/throws to prevent people from opening them with a screwdriver or credit card. Then add a second level of security such as a padlock on all barn doors from the inside, so if someone were to break in, opening the doors is much more difficult.
4. Registration: Be certain you keep a detailed record of all your vehicles’ serial numbers, correlated with the cart number. This not only ties any damaged vehicle back to the actual car, but any GPS units and other accessories that are assigned to each golf car.
5. GPS System: Consider installing Textron Fleet Management units on your golf cars. Raising car fees $1 or $2 per person can easily fund this upgrade, providing your members with an enhanced golfing experience while protecting your fleet. Had we not had this, we would have surely lost more than $25,000 in equipment.
Tim Walker, CCM, is the general manager at California Country Club and the vice President at SR Mutual Investment Corporations, where he oversees operations for Palm Desert Resort Country Club and Eagle Crest Golf Club (Escondido).