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Newspaper carrier’s car stolen from parking lot

Some customers didn’t get their Daily Leader newspapers Wednesday because a thief stole several hundred copies of the Aug. 8 edition — and the car they were riding in.

Daily Leader carrier James Smith, 67, said he was loading newspapers into the trunk and backseat of his 2015 Toyota Corolla shortly before 4 a.m. Wednesday, preparing for the morning deliveries, when the engine revved up and the car took off down the street from The Daily Leader parking lot. Smith said he had almost finished stocking up for his paper route and had turned to grab the last bundles from the delivery van when his car drove away with three doors and the trunk lid open.

“Next thing I knew, the car was gone, buddy,” Smith said. “I’m just tore all to pieces.”

Smith has been a carrier for The Daily Leader for 40 years and has faced unpleasantness before — someone pulled a gun on him years ago, he said — but has never been robbed on the job before Wednesday. His phone, his keys and other personal belongings sped off with his car.

Smith repeats the same routine five days a week to deliver The Daily Leader — he backs into the newspaper’s north parking lot before dawn, leaves his engine running and spends around 10 minutes loading up before starting his route delivering papers to newspaper racks and post offices. He believes that routine is why he’s now the victim of grand theft auto.

“I was right there, you know? There was bound to have been somebody watching me for a while in order to do it that quick,” he said.

Brookhaven Police Chief Kenneth Collins agrees. He urged anyone running routes or following schedules to change up their routines and keep potential thieves guessing.

“They’ve been watching him. It ain’t like they just found him this morning,” Collins said. “They set up a pattern on what you do — they’ll stake you out and put you under surveillance before they hit you. The criminals, that’s all they got to do. They know who’s out early in the morning, because they’re up all night and they sleep all day.”

Collins said the theft has been reported to the National Crime Information Center and officers everywhere are looking for Smith’s red Toyota, which sports a “James and Wanda” personalized tag on the front bumper and a sticker featuring an Native American praying.

The car isn’t likely to turn up at McDonald’s. Many times, car thefts like this are crimes of opportunity, Collins said.

“A lot of the times, they’ll steal a car just because they need to get somewhere,” he said. “They’ll drive it to where they need to be and stash it, and never touch it again. We’re checking all the back alleys and wooded areas to see if somebody has parked it somewhere.”

Collins said car thieves will also take their prizes to chop shops — he said some are known to operate in the Jackson area — where the vehicle will be disassembled and its parts swapped to other cars or sold piece-by-piece.

Smith, though bummed about the sight of his car leaving without him, said he would come back to work delivering The Daily Leader as soon as he gets his car returned, or gets a new ride.

“They ain’t gon’ run James Smith off,” he said. “I ain’t scared of nothing.”

If anyone spots the car or has other information regarding this crime, they should call Brookhaven police at 601-833-2424, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office at 601-833-5251 or CrimeStoppers at 601-823-0150.