ID number used to make key, steal car|[6/24/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 24, 2005

Thieves went to extra effort to steal a Vicksburg man’s Toyota, copying the 17-character vehicle identification number from the dashboard and concocting a story to have a key made at a dealership.

Jason Lasuzzo, 34, now has his 2000 Toyota 4Runner back, about six weeks after he reported it missing from the parking lot of his workplace, River Region Medical Center.

“I’m still completely dumbfounded by this,” Lasuzzo said Thursday.

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After noticing his vehicle missing about 11:45 a.m. on May 12, Lasuzzo said he spoke with someone who was working upstairs in the hospital who happened to see a man who appeared to be copying information from the SUV’s dashboard.

All vehicles have sequences of letters and numbers embedded in the dashboard and elsewhere that identify that vehicle only. Using computer technology, dealerships can produce new keys by typing in the correct sequence.

Lasuzzo said he was later told that a key had been made by personnel at a local dealership for a girl who presented the vehicle identification number and claimed the key was for a Toyota Camry, a different model. The girl’s story was that her mother had locked her keys in her vehicle. A spokesman for the dealership declined comment.

Five days after it was stolen, the 4Runner was recovered on a gravel road near a Clinton movie theater, said Deputy Stacy Shiers of the Warren County Sheriff’s Department.

But missing from it were a $3,600 bicycle, a top-mounted bicycle rack, equipment including a bicycle pump and two tennis rackets, three pairs of Oakley sunglasses and assorted shoes and other items, Lasuzzo said.

The vehicle was out of gas, damaged inside, smelling of cigarette and marijuana smoke, running with a damaged engine and with about 2,000 fresh miles on. It spent about two weeks in a Clinton body shop, he added.

The sheriff’s department has two suspects in the case, including one, Austin Chance Reid, 20, who is in federal custody. Reid, whose addresses have included Greenville and Clarksdale, was arrested by authorities June 1 and is being held without bond in Oxford, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshal’s Service said.

Authorities have connected Reid with the theft of another vehicle, a Toyota Tacoma pickup reported missing from Jackson and recovered in Clarksdale, Shiers said. Some items recovered from the Tacoma were from Lasuzzo’s 4Runner, Shiers said.

Agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrested Reid as a fugitive when a stolen vehicle was recovered, said Austin Banks, a senior special agent in the bureau’s New Orleans office.

Reid faces a federal indictment that was returned April 22 and charges him with three counts, possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number and possessing an unregistered firearm, all for the possession of a sawed-off rifle, Banks said. A July 18 trial on those charges in Greenville federal court has been set and the three charges together carry maximum prison time of 25 years, Banks added.

Reid may also face state charges in the vehicle cases. An arrest warrant has been issued for the other suspect, but that person remained at large, Shiers said Thursday.