2 Held on Car Theft Charges After Stakeout

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A Ventura car-theft ring that specialized in stealing new cars off dealer lots was dealt a major blow early Thursday when a stakeout led to the arrest of two people after high-speed chases, authorities said.

One of those arrested, 18-year-old James Chrisman Smith of Ventura, had been out on bail while awaiting a Jan. 15 sentencing for two other car theft cases in which he pleaded guilty, officials said.

He and a 15-year-old Ventura boy were arrested after each drove a late-model Camaro Z28 past a police stakeout Thursday morning at a Ventura Auto Center dealership and fled in separate directions, authorities said.

A third member of the ring was arrested previously and more arrests are expected, said Ventura Police Sgt. Bob Anderson.

"There has been a small group of young men in their late teens and early 20s who made themselves a major nuisance," Anderson said.

Police believe that the ring is responsible for up to 15 thefts of new and late-model cars from five car dealers in the Ventura Auto Center over the last six weeks, Anderson said.

The members of the ring would steal several cars from a lot in one night, he said.

The thefts had continued, even after Smith was arrested twice in November--for stealing luxury cars from Weber Motor Co. and, less than two weeks later, for stealing motorcycles from Barber Honda, Anderson said.

Micah Bischoff, 18, was arrested with Smith during the first November incident after they were caught trying to steal a $30,000 Alpha Romeo, Anderson said. The ring is suspected of stealing two other cars from the lot earlier that night.

Both men had pleaded guilty and were free on $5,000 bail while awaiting sentencing, officials said.

Thursday's arrests occurred shortly after 3:30 a.m. as two Ventura police officers staked out the Ventura Toyota dealership on Leland Street.

According to Sgt. Larry White, the suspects turned into the side street next to the dealership at high speed and made a U-turn at the end of the street.

As the suspects returned, officers fell in behind and signaled for them to pull over. But the suspects sped off, heading east on Leland Street. When they reached Ventura Road, one suspect turned north and the other, Smith, turned south, authorities said.

The car driven by Smith spun around when it reached the dead end on Ventura Road, then rammed the patrol car driven by Officer Dave Wilson before fleeing, authorities said. The chase continued onto the southbound lanes of the Ventura Freeway, with the California Highway Patrol joining in.

Smith abandoned the car, which was reported stolen in Oxnard, near Rice Road, and sprinted across the freeway, police said. He was arrested after officers caught up with him.

The juvenile who fled north on Ventura Road was captured by White after his path was blocked by a passing train.

Police were fortunate to seize both suspects, Anderson said. "There were two suspects trying to escape and only two officers to chase them down," he said.

Smith was taken to Ventura County Jail, where he is being held on $100,000 bail for suspicion of auto theft, assault with a deadly weapon, hit-and-run and evading arrest.

The 15-year-old suspect was taken to Juvenile Hall and charged with auto theft and evading arrest. The car he was driving was reported stolen from Santa Barbara, Anderson said.

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