Chris Leitza did everything authorities say he should have to avoid becoming the victim of a vehicle break-in.
His family's conversion van was locked. It was parked close to his Martinez home. And it was directly under motion-activated security lights.
"We keep it locked," Leitza said. "We know better."
In spite of those precautions, someone broke a window of his van early Monday morning, but stole nothing. Leitza said the security lights likely scared away the intruder.
Police believe Leitza was one of five victims of the man whom West Lake resident Peter Barbara found inside his vehicle about 6 a.m. Monday
The intruder pointed a gun at the Medical College of Georgia public safety officer. Barbara brandished his own weapon and shot at the intruder four times, hitting his gun and possibly shooting him in the arm or hand.
The intruder thus far has escaped capture, but investigators found blood at the scene. Barbara was not injured.
Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Clay Smith said 404 vehicle break-ins were reported in 2007. About half the break-ins were in residential areas.
Smith, the coordinator of the sheriff's office's awareness campaign Lock It or Lose It, said that in the 55 residential vehicle break-ins reported from Jan. 1 through Feb. 20, 39 of the vehicles were not locked.
Simply locking vehicle doors can be a deterrent to theft, Smith said.
"They know they can pull on enough doors, they are going to find plenty of them unlocked," Smith said. "They know that out of 10 cars ... seven of them are going to be unlocked."
Heather Miller is another West Lake resident who police believe was victimized by the same thief Monday. Someone entered her unlocked Mercedes-Benz, went through its compartments and took loose change.
"I always lock it," Miller said, adding that her husband had driven her car the night before and had forgotten to lock it. "It is common sense to protect yourself. Just because you live in a gated community doesn't mean you are protected against everything."
Miller left nothing in her car of value to steal.
Smith said removing valuables from a vehicle or at least from plain sight, especially in residential areas, is a way to avoid being a victim.
"We have computers just laying in the seat," Smith said. "We have wallets, purses just laying on the seat. Money in the console. Cameras just laying in the seat.
"That's where the target is. Don't invite the intruder by leaving items out in plain view."
Smith said that if nothing is readily available for stealing during a cursory glance into a locked vehicle, most thieves will move on to the next vehicle.
Simple steps often are overlooked when residents head home, where they feel safest.
"It is complacency," Smith said. "They feel secure because it is in a neighborhood."
Miller said she understands the world she lives in and always tries to take measures to protect herself and her family.
"You always have to be vigilant," she said.
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