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Member accused of fitness center thefts

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

The man is charged with taking other members' keys from a pegboard at the Seminole business, then stealing items from their cars.

For two weeks, money and credit cards mysteriously disappeared from cars parked at Lifestyle Family Fitness.

Members of the exercise center saw no signs of forced entry.

Then, one day, one of the center's managers noticed something unusual. He saw one of the club's members holding a set of keys and walking aimlessly throughout the parking lot.

That observation led the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to arrest Kenneth Applegate. Authorities say Applegate, a member of Lifestyle Family Fitness in Seminole for three years, used the members' keys to gain access to their cars.

As the members lifted barbells, Applegate lifted their keys from a pegboard, according to the sheriff's office.

Applegate walked through the parking lot pressing a remote keyless entry device until he found the matching car, said Cpl. Tim Grundmann of the Sheriff's Office.

Then Applegate searched the car for a wallet or purse, grabbed cash or credit cards and put the keys back on the board, Grundmann said. In all, $320 was stolen, and a stolen credit card was used to buy gas.

The two-week crime wave came to an end March 5 when Grundmann arrested Applegate at the fitness center after the fifth auto burglary there. Applegate of 10673 Orange Blossom Lane, Seminole, was charged with two counts of felony auto burglary. He was released on his own recognizance.

Applegate could not be reached for comment Monday.

Grundmann said Applegate, 31, admitted committing all five burglaries. The State Attorney's Office plans to charge him for only two of them because there isn't enough evidence to convict him in the other three incidents, Grundmann said.

The five burglaries occurred in a two-week period beginning Feb. 21. At first, the victims weren't sure how their money and credit cards were being stolen because there were no forced entries into their vehicles, Grundmann said. They eventually realized their own keys might be giving the criminal access to their cars.

The managers at the center decided to keep an eye on him. So did Grundmann. Dressed in exercise clothes, Grundmann arrested Applegate after watching him unhook a set of keys, walk to the parking lot and unlock a car there, the deputy recalled.

Applegate's membership was revoked after his arrest.

"He was a nice guy and we couldn't believe it was him," said Andrea Williams, manager of the fitness center at 10781 Park Blvd.

Williams posted a bulletin warning members of the potential risks of the pegboard. She considered removing it, but the members wanted it to stay, she said. They like the convenience.

And, the burglaries were an isolated incident, Williams said: "We never have theft."

But the incident did spark the St. Petersburg-based fitness company to install security systems at all 12 of its centers, Williams said. "It's a shame when things like this happen," she said.

Williams said all of the Lifestyle clubs are equipped with lockers. Members must provide their own locks.

An employee at Bally Total Fitness on Ulmerton Road in Largo said there are no key pegboards in any of the chain's clubs. But members can pay 25 cents for a coin-operated lock box or use a locker, he said.

_ Staff writer Maureen Byrne can be reached at 445-4163 or at