TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - A Lafayette man has been accused of stealing the personal vehicle of Lafayette police officer Justin Hartman. He's telling his story with the hope others won't make the same mistake.
Officer Hartman lives in a quiet and newly built neighborhood in Tippecanoe County, just south of Lafayette city limits. With candy canes and Christmas lights, it's not the first place you would think of that someone would steal a car from inside an open garage, especially in broad daylight.
But Hartman said that exactly what happened Wednesday afternoon.
"When you park your car in your garage, you think it's safe and you're good," he said. "You don't think you need to lock it or remove the keys. But it's a lesson learned."
Hartman said he pulled his SUV in about 3:30, enjoyed some family time until coming out a little after 4 p.m. to close the garage. A neighbor saw the vehicle still there a few minutes earlier.
"It's different being on the other side of things," Hartman said. "When you take out a theft report, it becomes a daily routine. But when it happens to you and you realize the impact it has on you and your family, it really hits home."
Two hours and 90 miles later, Hartman's SUV crashed on Interstate 65 in Lake County. Laurence "Larry" Myers, Jr., 35, was arrested. Troopers found Hartman's credit card in Myers' pocket.
Hartman said, as an officer, he's dealt with Myers a couple times.
"When we did learn who it was, I must say, I was a little shocked to hear that person was in our neighborhood, but even more so to learn that he was able to do what he did and get away with it," Hartman said.
According to Tippecanoe County court records, Myers has been charged on 11 separate occasions with crimes, including four charges of either resisting or battery of law enforcement. There have been several convictions, several pleas and several dismissals. Most recently he was charged with burglary in May.
"I've never had any problems with Larry," Hartman said. "There's no telling if this was personal or if it was random. As the investigation continues, maybe we'll have a better idea."
Knowing his neighbors, Hartman said he was lulled into a false sense of security. He hopes by sharing his story that others, no matter where they live, won't make the same mistakes. Lock your car, keep an eye out and check on your neighbors. And if you see something suspicious, don't hesitate to call police.
"It could have been a lot worse," Hartman said. "It's a perfect example that you're not safe anywhere anymore."
According to the Tippecanoe County Jail, Larry Myers, Jr., was in the Lake County Jail as of late Thursday night. He faces three felonies including auto theft with a prior conviction.
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