Suspected thieves targeted church vans in Habersham

Five suspects from South Carolina traveled to Habersham County to go to church, but not for the same reasons most people go. They were nabbed for allegedly stealing catalytic converters from several church vans.

On Sunday, August 23, Habersham County sheriff’s deputies responded to a call about suspicious activity at Camp Creek Baptist Church off of Camp Creek Road. When they got to the church, several people jumped into a Gold Honda Odyssey in the parking lot and left. “The subjects sped out of the parking lot in an apparent attempt to flee from the deputies,” says Habersham Sheriff’s Lt. Matthew Wurtz. Deputies pursued the vehicle and, several miles later, deployed spike strips to stop it.

According to Wurtz, deputies found a number of catalytic converters inside the suspects’ vehicle. Habersham Sheriff’s investigators later determined the converters had been cut off and stolen from several different church vans in Habersham County. Some of the converters also were allegedly taken from vehicles in Northeast Georgia’s Franklin and Hart counties and, possibly, areas of South Carolina.

Deputies arrested the suspects at the scene. They’re identified as Tamitha Piper, 50, of Greenville, South Carolina; Brittany Piper, 29, and Stephen Eskensen, 43, both of Simpsonville, South Carolina; and Laurie Keiser, 57, and Steven Roussell, 41, both of Ware Shoals, South Carolina.

All of the suspects were booked into the Habersham County Detention Center on the following charges:

  • Tamitha Piper – party to a crime/theft by taking, fleeing and attempting to elude, obstruction, reckless driving, failure to maintain lane, failure to obey stop sign. She also has an open warrant out of Franklin County for larceny.
  • Brittany Piper – party to a crime/theft by taking, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of drug-related objects
  • Keiser – party to a crime/theft by taking
  • Eskensen – theft by taking
  • Roussell theft by taking. He also has open warrants out of Franklin and Hart counties for larceny, according to the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office.

Wurtz says the investigation continues and additional charges may be filed.

Catalytic converters, part of a vehicle’s exhaust system, are popular targets for thieves who are looking to sell off the precious metals in the devices. Buses, vans, and trucks are especially vulnerable to these types of thefts because the converters are easier to reach than on vehicles that are lower to the ground.

Although these types of thefts have “not been an issue in a while,” says Wurtz, he advises churches and others to keep their vehicles parked “in a well-lighted area and in public view.”

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