Authorities: Major car theft ring could be connected to heroin

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ASHLAND COUNTY, Ohio – Investigators have broken up a major car theft ring spanning at least three counties, recovering at least 21 vehicles stolen since April.

Investigators said thieves targeted cars parked along streets, in gas station parking lots, and even in a library parking lot in Huron, Crawford and Richland counties. Many of the thefts took place in Willard and Mansfield.

“I just started crying,” said Erin Barnett, whose 2009 Chevy Malibu was stolen near the Garden Court Apartments in Willard on July 1. “It’s just sick and disgusting. People work so hard to pay for the things we have.”

Keys were left in most of the targeted vehicles.

“It was more a target of opportunity; they weren't targeting a specific type of car,” said Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Harley Steppenbacker.

Authorities cracked the ring Saturday, when they arrested Eddie D. Tackett Jr., 24, of Willard, after they said he stole a car in Mansfield. He was charged with theft of a motor vehicle, a fourth degree felony.

Investigators took six other people in for questioning, but they were not yet charged. Information led troopers to a rural address in Jeromesville, in Ashland County, where they recovered 21 confirmed stolen vehicles, as well as four others that were suspected of being stolen.

Many of the cars were left with cracked windshields and mirrors. Authorities said the cars were all drivable when stolen, but they were trashed because the suspects were scrapping the vehicles, likely to pay for heroin.

“I guess the moral of the story is: don't leave your keys in your car, because that's what they're targeting,” Harley Steppenbacker said.

Troopers said the investigation is ongoing and they anticipate additional arrests to come.