Phone thieves preying on the kindness of trail users

A 13-year-old boy had his cell phone stolen on the South Ellerbe Creek Trail in Durham.
April 14, 2014 3:50:38 PM PDT
Users of a popular trail are urged to be on alert after a boy had his cell phone stolen on the South Ellerbe Creek Trail, between Knox Street and Green Street in Durham. Fortunately, he was not injured.

The theft of smartphones has become big business for thieves looking to cash in on the devices. It is a crime trend that concerns police, not only because of the phone theft, but also because the thieves could become more aggressive.

The first sign of warm weather lures avid runners like Laura Pyatt to local trails.

"I've never had an incident on the trails before. I always feel pretty safe," Pyatt said.

She would like to keep it that way. However, people living in the Duke Park community say there have been at least two alarming incidents on the popular trail.

The parents of a 13-year-old boy told ABC11 their son was walking his dog on the trail when a group of teenagers approached him, and asked to use his phone. He handed it over, and they ran away, escaping in a nearby vehicle.

"Always have awareness...a heightened awareness about you," said D.C. Allen, with the Durham Police Department.

Durham police are encouraging trail users to be kind but vigilant.

"If they really need to use the phone, you should suggest, 'How about I make the call for you.' But never relinquish your property to anyone," Allen said.

Assaults and thefts have been a major concern on the American Tobacco Trail, another popular greenway. So far this year, police have responded to one incident on the trail.

The Ellerbe Creek incident has convinced Pyatt to leave her phone at home.

"That's just another thing to get stolen, so I don't even run with my phone, but I would definitely be hesitant if a group approached me," she said.

"We would much rather you carry that phone and not need it than to need it and not have it," Allen said.

Neither the stolen phone nor the trail thieves have turned up. Police are urging trail users to avoid running, biking or walking alone, and if you do, be sure to let someone know where you are going.

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