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Stolen car may be link to robberies

Published Oct. 18, 2005

Hillsborough sheriff's deputies found a stolen car they believe was used in five roadside holdups in east Hillsborough County early Wednesday morning. But as of Thursday afternoon, they had made no arrests.

Five female drivers were threatened in their cars between 3 and 5 a.m. Wednesday in a string of robberies and attempted robberies that stretched from the Palm River area to Plant City, officials said.

The victims told officials that two men threatened them with a handgun, a tire iron and a hatchet.

No one was injured, but most of the women were forced to give the robbers their money or jewelry, according to the Sheriff's Office and the Plant City Police Department.

No similar incidents were reported Thursday morning, said Capt. Richard Cipriano at the sheriff's station in Brandon.

But officials still are advising women to avoid driving alone when the roads are deserted. "They should be cautious, just as they always should be cautious," Cipriano said.

The car that is believed to have been used in the holdups, a blue 1984 two-door Oldsmobile, was discovered in an orange grove on Bethlehem Road in Dover early Wednesday afternoon, said Debbie Carter, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office.

The Oldsmobile had been stolen from a home in Lakeland early Wednesday morning and later abandoned, Carter said. Officials would not say who owned the car.

Inside the Oldsmobile, deputies found identification that belonged to one of the robbery victims, said Jack Espinosa, a sheriff's spokesman.

The Oldsmobile also appeared to be the color of paint samples found on at least one victim's car, Espinosa said. Several victims said the Oldsmobile driver had forced them off the road by hitting them from the side.

An employee at Brown's Towing in Plant City, where the car was held Thursday, said the entire right side of the Oldsmobile was badly damaged. "There were paint marks, tire marks, and it was dented," she said.

Sheriff's deputies have refused to identify the victims because they are all considered witnesses and the men accused of robbing them are still at large.

"This is a toughy," Espinosa said. "They are terrorizing these women, and it's also dangerous because it is happening while they are driving. We are very concerned."