Clovis News

Car burglars hit Kings River rafters

When rafters take to the Valley rivers to cool off, water is not the only danger they could encounter.

After they return from their watery adventures, some find their vehicles burglarized and possessions missing.

Kings County sheriff's deputies are trying to strike back. With the help of a state grant, they have stepped up shoreline patrols to minimize roadside burglaries of rafters' vehicles.

Kings County senior deputy Lydia Montoya said the patrols have cut vehicle burglaries along the Kings County portion of the river by more than half. Only about a dozen vehicle burglaries have occurred so far this year, she said.

But burglaries continue. Kings County deputies on Saturday were investigating three burglaries of vehicles left parked by rafters as they floated on the Kings River.

The burglaries occur because people leave valuable items inside their vehicles. While it helps to lock vehicles, many of the burglaries are of the "smash and grab" variety, which means windows are shattered and items removed.

When leaving their vehicles, rafters should not leave their valuables visible, Montoya said.

The most popular items to steal are small -- cell phones and other electronic devices, said Fresno County sheriff's Lt. Phil Caporale.

"It's a big problem," he said. "We do a lot of surveillance and decoys, but it's like when you go to the movie theater, people know you are going to be gone for a couple hours."

Jonathan Beer, 24, of Kerman, said he hasn't been burglarized, but he knows people who have been. He was with friends along Cairo Avenue just south of the border between Fresno and Kings counties, where vehicles park bumper to bumper and dozens of rafters prepared for an afternoon float Sunday.

"Last year was really bad over by Reedley," he said. "They wait for you to take off and when everyone's gone they smash the window and take the goods."

Like Beer, many rafters said they have acquaintances who have lost valuables.

"They got our friend's truck over by Kingsburg," said Michelle Placencia, 32, of Clovis. "They took his GPS."

The burglaries have prompted some people to take their own measures.

After seeing so many vehicles broken into and others ticketed for illegal parking, Kathryn Valdes and her husband, George, opened Goodfellow's Landing on their property earlier this summer.

For $10, the property offers rafters secure parking, bathrooms, air compressors to fill their rafts and tubes and a sand beach to get into the river.

In a weekend aftermath last year it was common to see broken glass from dozens of vehicles spilled onto nearby roadways, she said.

"We get so many people telling us, 'It's about time somebody did something like this,' " Kathryn Valdes said. "We see a lot of people coming back all the time."