CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Women’s handbags were snatched right out of their cars, while distracted victims were pumping their own gas.
On Wednesday, a Suffolk County man was charged in the brazen series of thefts.
But police are warning, it could happen again, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.
Police said the scene captured on surveillance video played out eight times in recent weeks. A man in a pickup pulls next to an unsuspecting woman filling up with gas and then crouches down, opens the unlocked passenger’s door and snatches her handbag.
Gone in an instant were credit cards and cash.
“People should lock their doors,” one person told Gusoff, adding she didn’t always, but will going forward.
“I always lock my car, because my pocketbook has been stolen out of my car,” a woman added.
“I always keep my pocketbook with me,,” another woman said.
One man has admitted his role in the crimes. In a three-page confession, Craig Mastandrea, who is 47 years old and homeless, said he has a really bad heroin addiction, adding he “… picked women who were gassing their cars because …they usually have pocketbooks on their car seats and if their backs were turned … I could maybe grab their wallets and get some money for drugs. I didn’t want to confront anyone or hurt them.”
Although the admitted addict was arrested, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart offered a warning to the public.
“You may be in a rush, you jump out of the car. Just take a moment, roll up the windows. Just lock the door,” Hart said.
The commissioner also told shoppers it’s just as important to keep your eyes on your handbag while pushing a grocery cart or if you’re in a dressing room.
“It only take a second, and that’s the message we want to get out to the public. Be aware of your surroundings,” Hart said.
Mastandrea admitted female customers can be easy targets, adding he sought out those who “weren’t looking” and “with her back to her car.”
His attorney, Matthew Tuohy, said Mastandrea is an accomplished wood carver who fell on hard times. Tuohy said he is trying to get him help.
“He’s a very skilled craftsman, so these charges don’t really reflect him as a person,” Tuohy said.
In his statement, Mastandrea added, “I’m really sorry for what I did. … I was desperate.”
The incidents occurred over a three-week period at eight gas stations in central Suffolk County.