Three people arrested Friday in Minden, Nev., may be connected to a slew of burglaries in the South Shore area, according to local law enforcement.
The suspects Jeffrey Lee Stephens, 44, Jean Rene Winters, 45, and Joseph Alan Winters, 48, all of South Lake Tahoe, were arrested Friday morning when South Lake El Dorado Narcotics Enforcement Team officers identified the white 2000 Ford Explorer they were driving. The vehicle had been under surveillance since an Oct. 12 incident.
The officers followed them into Nevada and found the suspects trying to pry open a door to a woman’s home in Indian Hills, Nev., according to a news release.
“The suspects forced entry into a residence located in the residential neighborhood of Valley Crest Estates, located in North Douglas County,” the release stated.
The suspects are currently in Douglas County Jail. As of Tuesday afternoon, the suspects have not been charged by the El Dorado County District Attorney. In Douglas County, Stephens is charged with two counts of burglary; Jean Winters, 45, is charged with burglary; and Joseph Winters, 48, is charged with two counts of burglary.
The trio appeared Monday before East Fork Judge Tom Perkins who set their next hearings for Wednesday.
South Lake Tahoe Police Department Lt. Brian Williams said the suspects were identified and sought by the department because their vehicle had been seen in the vicinity of burglaries not long after they had happened.
“A patrol officer had noticed (the vehicle) seemed to be at the right place at the right time,” Williams said, adding it was registered to one of the suspects who has a criminal record in the area. “We have identified them with stolen properties linked to our burglaries.”
On Oct. 12, a Douglas County woman said she was in her home when two men using a crowbar tried to break into her residence through the front door.
By the time she reached the door, the woman said she heard what sounded like someone using a shoulder to break down the door, and a crunching noise that sounded like a crowbar. The thieves fled when they realized she was home. The woman called 911 and was able to copy the license number that was traced to a South Lake Tahoe man who reported his plate was stolen that day.
Williams said it is possible the suspects committed 80 burglaries within the city limits of South Lake Tahoe. El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Pete Van Arnum said including the South Lake Tahoe burglaries, the suspects may have burglarized as many as 150 locations throughout the region for about the last two months.
Williams said the methods in which the crimes were committed were similar. Most of the time they were doors broken down, finding unlocked access to a home or prying a door open.
“Their methods did vary a little bit, but crooks will typically take the easiest way in,” Williams said.
“Prior to this, we did some search warrants and found quite a bit of stolen material from two different motels in (South Lake Tahoe),” Van Arnum said.
Van Arnum said most of the items stolen included jewelry, watches, televisions, bicycles and “pretty much anything they could get out.” Van Arnum also said one firearm was recovered during the search.
“They were usually striking during the day, knowing when people would be home,” he said. “If no one appeared to be home, then they would break in.”
Williams said the police do not have a close estimate of how much in property value had been taken, but he did say it could be near tens of thousands of dollars that may have been accumulated by the suspects, if not more.
Local law enforcement will set up a property identification program for people who have been burglarized, Williams said, but it has not been set up yet.
Anyone who has seen the suspects or their vehicle in their neighborhood, or been contacted by them, is asked to call Douglas investigators Ted Duzan or John Preston at (775) 782-9905.
The Record-Courier contributed to this report.