TARPON SPRINGS — Rule No. 1 for a car thief: Never leave your driver's license behind when you abandon a stolen vehicle.
Travis Lavar Fields probably wishes he had learned that lesson.
Fields was arrested Monday after a series of blunders, starting with the lost license, led police straight to him.
Tarpon Springs police were already looking at the 19-year-old as a suspect in a spate of residential burglaries when they recovered a van Friday that was stolen from Hillsborough County on Feb. 14.
Inside was Fields' driver's license.
"He's not very brilliant," said Edward Pishkur, whose home was burglarized and car stolen last week.
Pishkur, 80, was getting ready for his morning walk at about 4 a.m. Thursday, when he saw a man standing in his kitchen. The man was unplugging a nearby laptop. He made off with a purse belonging to Pishkur's 79-year-old wife, Marianne.
"He must have seen me because then he was off, out the back door. I was after him with a baseball bat," said Pishkur.
Police said that Fields is the man who broke into Pishkur's home, and several others, over the past three weeks.
Two days after the Pishkurs' break-in, before the couple could take their 2008 Nissan Altima to the garage to have the key fob reprogrammed, Fields returned in the middle of the night and stole their car.
It was the Altima that gave police their final break in the case early Monday. Detectives found the car about 1 a.m. in the 500 block of E Harrison Street, not far from the Pishkurs' home.
The hood was still warm, indicating it had recently been used, said Tarpon Springs police Sgt. Robert Faugno.
At 7 a.m., Fields committed another stupid criminal mistake when he returned to the car, which was under surveillance by detectives. He was arrested after a brief foot chase and later admitted his involvement to police, Faugno said.
Fields made one more gaffe that likely could have led to his capture when he used one of the Pishkurs' credit cards to pay two utility bills.
Police are still investigating the crimes and think Fields had at least one accomplice, Faugno said. He declined to name that suspect.
Faugno praised detectives, including Cpl. Scott Brockew and Detective Barry Wireman, who led the investigation.
"We made it a priority to find this guy. We believed he was a real threat," Faugno said. "We're glad to get him off the street and hopefully give these people a little peace of mind.
Acting police Chief Bob Kochen said police were particularly concerned by Fields' brazenness. He targeted the mobile homes of elderly residents while they slept. He would cut or remove screens, then slip through an unlocked window or pry open one that was locked.
"When you wake up to find someone in your house, it's terrifying," Kochen said.
Pishkur has reinforced his doors and windows and was preparing Monday to have an alarm system installed.
Fields, whose last known address was 1010 Windsor Hill Way in Tarpon Springs, racked up 12 felony charges that include residential and commercial burglaries and grand theft auto. He was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on Monday. Bail was set at $60,000.
Records obtained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show Fields has a criminal record that dates to age 13 and includes several arrests for drug violations and a domestic battery charge.
Rita Farlow can be reached at [email protected].com or (727) 445-4162.