LOXAHATCHEE, Fla. — Palm Beach County sheriff's detectives are investigating whether the same three suspects burglarized three western Palm Beach County stores in as many weeks for their ATMs.
A sheriff's spokeswoman could not confirm Monday that the three incidents, which date to April 25, are connected. But she confirmed that the cases are similar enough that detectives working them - who are based out of different districts - will be meeting this week to share information.
In each case, the thieves have not been found - including the most recent incident on Monday. Around 4 a.m., detectives said a trio of thieves failed at stealing an ATM from a Walgreens at 15940 Orange Boulevard, off Seminole Pratt-Whitney Road. The would-be burglars, with their faces covered and wearing dark clothing, smashed the window of the Loxahatchee store.
Teri Barbera, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, said the trio fled and ultimately dumped the stolen white Ford F-150 they used in the robbery. Deputies recovered the vehicle.
Copy that burglary scenario, and paste it onto April 25 and April 28.
They have the same "method of operation," Barbera said of the crimes, which are considered "smash and grab" by the sheriff's office. "They hit during the early morning hours when the businesses are vacant and dark."
Despite Monday's failed attempt, thieves succeeded on April 28. They made off with the ATM from the Loxahatchee Shell gas station at 14745 Southern Blvd. around 1:30 a.m. according to the station's owner.
In that case, the thieves broke through the station's hurricane shutters with a sledgehammer, threw a chain around the machine and yanked it out with a pickup truck.
The store's owner, Scott Bergman, said Monday that among the things that angered him most was that the thieves smashed a wine rack that was right next to the ATM "for no reason at all."
"It was a lot of fun cleaning up," Bergman said, sarcastically alluding to the damage the suspects caused. "I got everything fixed. It just wasn't cheap."
Three days earlier, deputies responded just after 5 a.m. to an alarm at the Sunoco gas station at 1009 N. State Road 7 in Royal Palm Beach.
There, they found the front window shattered, "extensive damage" inside and the ATM missing.
The incident sparked a seven-hour manhunt for the burglars, which forced authorities to lock down two nearby schools - The King's Academy at the corner of Belvedere Road and Sansbury's Way, and Berean Christian Academy at 8350 Okeechobee Blvd.
It ended when deputies found the white pickup truck used during the burglary in a retention pond in the Benoist Farms catchment area. The ATM was found nearby. It's unclear whether the burglars made off with any cash from the machine, which can hold up to $20,000 in $20 bills.
A spokeswoman for the Florida Bankers Association said how much cash is stored in the ATMs is rarely shared to avoid providing an incentive for would-be robbers.