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Golf carts taken on slow-speed joyrides

Someone couldn't resist a little 5-horsepower joyride Sunday night in Sun City Center.

Bandits stole four golf carts from the Sun Towers Retirement Center, Hillsborough County Deputy Rob Thornton said, and pulled wires out of a fifth in a hot-wiring attempt. At least two of the carts have been recovered with heavy damage.

"In some areas you have car thefts," sheriff's property detective Mike Massimei said. "Down here, we have golf cart thefts."

No one has been arrested, but Thornton said sheriff's deputies may spend more time patrolling the area.

"This sure looks like it's just juveniles screwing around," Thornton said. "They'll get out, grab a bunch of golf carts, race them around and then ditch them."

Massimei said Sun City Center experiences about 20 to 25 golf cart thefts each year. Many are taken during sprees similar to Sunday's, Thornton said. He encourages drivers to lock up their carts at night or park their cars in such a way that the carts are blocked in.

Sun Towers residents park in covered canopies, often leaving their golf carts exposed. This can be a problem. Unlike automobiles, most golf carts lack sophisticated theft-prevention technology.

Jim Cooper, the owner of Sun City Golf & Cars, said many carts use identical keys, which makes sense for golf courses with an enormous cart fleet. Individual cart owners, he said, buy the same product _ meaning anyone with an identical cart probably owns an identical key.

Some residents upgrade to an "uncommon key ignition" system, which costs about $75. But those systems are far from foolproof; an uncommon key might not start every identical car, but it might start other carts with uncommon ignition systems.

However, hot-wiring is the most common method of golf cart theft.

Just two weeks ago, two juveniles were arrested for hot-wiring golf carts from Buckhorn Country Club.

"All it takes is 15 seconds to jerk the wires out, wrap them around, tape them, and you're gone again," Cooper said. "There's no cure for it."

Jay Cridlin can be reached at 661-2442 or