Route 17 a corridor of crime?

Published 12:03 pm Wednesday, October 12, 2016

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Twenty years ago, there were few businesses and residential areas located along Route 17 between the James River Bridge and Suffolk.

Today, the area is bustling with several shopping centers, restaurants, individual businesses, apartments, and large residential developments — and it continues to grow.

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While many quip that removing the tolls from the James River Bridge in the 1970s opened an avenue of crime in Isle of Wight, it’s the highway itself — which provides a direct and easy connection to the more populous areas on both sides of Hampton Roads — that has become a corridor of crime, said deputies with the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office.

Many of the major crimes committed these days are by people from outside the county, said Lt. Thomas Potter as he ticked off a list of burglaries, robberies, homicides and other crimes. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Recently, a Hampton man and Virginia Beach woman attempted to use the easy access of Route 17 to steal construction materials from the new Eagle Harbor apartments. The pair was apprehended.

Ditto for a series of car burglaries in Eagle Harbor in June. The perpetrators, who were from outside the county, were caught on the James River Bridge.

A robbery in March at Langley Federal Credit Union at Eagle Harbor was allegedly committed by a man thought to be connected to robberies in Gloucester, Newport News, Poquoson and Suffolk.

A series of burglaries in 2010, as well as the murder of Jean Marie Smith and the burned body of a North Carolina man on Nike Park Road, were either committed by non-Isle of Wight residents or allegedly so.

With the highly populated areas of Suffolk and Portsmouth to the south and the Peninsula to the east, “we’re kind of caught in the middle,” said Lt. James Pope with the Isle of Wight Sheriff’s Office.

Within a matter of minutes, criminals can be in Newport News, Suffolk or Portsmouth, said Potter.

Also, individuals from other localities looking to commit crime may eye Isle of Wight because it’s still perceived as small, but those individuals would be less likely to be identified and thus able to elude capture, said Pope.

However, law enforcement agencies from Gloucester to Portsmouth, including Isle of Wight, have all worked on sharing information to help solve or prevent crime in each of their jurisdictions.

“They have all sat around this table,” said Potter.

And while fingerprints and other physical forensic evidence used to be the best tool for solving a crime, now it’s the information shared between agencies that is gaining precedence, said Potter.

For example, if another locality along Route 17 is experiencing a rash of a particular sort of crime, Isle of Wight can increase patrols, as well as notify property owners, said Potter.

“We need to be vigilant, but people in their communities have to be too,” Potter said.

Sheriff Mark Marshall has also established a new patrol in the Carrollton area, which has been in force for about three months. While it’s too early to provide hard data on its results, it has cut down considerably on response times, said Pope.

Earlier this year, the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors agreed to allow Marshall to hire two new deputies as part of the Carrollton patrol, but they are still in the academy and will graduate in December, said Pope.

The county is still lagging behind when it comes to radio communication, but a fix is in the works. The Board of Supervisors gave the go ahead to replace the county’s radio system at a total cost of about $8 million.

Work on the new system is underway, with completion expected no later than June 2018, said Marshall.    {/mprestriction}