Follow That Truck, Officer!

Moonlighting holding down two or three jobs at one time-has become a lugubrious way of life for many Americans. But their second job doesn’t usually involve truck-jacking, unlike the suspect that cops arrested on April 5.

The perp’s legitimate career was as a delivery man for a meat purveyor in Hunts Point, according to the police. His second job also involved making deliveries, the difference being that in this case he would steal the trucks he used off the streets of the Upper East Side. In recent weeks, the perp had helped himself to vehicles on at least three occasions-along with the purloined contents of the trucks, merchandise that he then hawked.

“He was a delivery guy,” explained Inspector James Rogers, the commanding officer of the 19th Precinct. “He’d bang in sick. He stole a cheese truck full of cheese, a Pepsi truck full of Pepsi and a Snapple truck full of Snapple. He’d sell it to bodegas.”

The Pepsi truck, which had been left running by its driver, was stolen from in front of 1343 Lexington Avenue on March 31 at 12:30 p.m., while its driver was inside making a delivery.

The cheese truck-to be precise, a Cheez Whiz truck-was also stolen off the streets of the Upper East Side, on March 24 at 6:15 a.m. In both cases, the trucks were recovered abandoned uptown in the 25th Precinct.

So when the cops received a call on April 5 from Snapple, informing them that one of the company’s vehicles had been stolen outside a store on Third Avenue between 81st and 82nd streets while the driver was making a delivery, the police headed uptown. Aware of the budding crime pattern, they were hoping the bandit would follow the same route he had used during the previous incidents, and that they might get lucky and be able to intercept him along the way.

The call from Snapple had gone to Sal Echel, a 19th Precinct scooter cop who was on patrol in the neighborhood at that moment. “A Snapple salesman called me and told me it was stolen,” said Officer Echel, who headed uptown. “I spotted him on 110th Street, talked to him, and made sure he wasn’t armed or there were other perps.”

Officer Echel, trying to stall the suspect until help arrived, told him that other delivery trucks had been stolen and that he should be careful. The thief apparently saw through the ruse immediately and fled on foot, though fortunately into the hands of Officer Echel’s comrades, who had converged on the scene to provide back-up.

So far the crook, who gave up without a struggle, hasn’t confessed to the two prior vehicle thefts. “We’re checking the prints now,” Inspector Rogers reported. “It’s the same M.O., and the trucks were recovered in the same area.”

While the suspect probably faces serious prison time (he has prior arrests for similar crimes), Inspector Rogers said he would manage to avoid at least one charge: driving without a valid license. “He did have a commercial driver’s license,” the inspector said. “That’s the good news.”

The Wheels of Justice

It’s a well-known fact that the fastest way to get around town isn’t by car, certainly not by bus and not even by subway, given the M.T.A.’s recent dismal record of floods and fires. The speediest form of transportation in the city, in fact, is the old-fashioned bicycle, as one pervert discovered to his dismay on April 7.

His victim, a 32-year-old woman, told the police that she was cycling southbound on Lexington Avenue between 95th and 96th streets at 5:35 p.m. when she noticed a slow-moving vehicle to her right. The car’s driver reached over, “grabbed her buttocks” and then fled southbound on Lexington Avenue.

What he apparently failed to consider was that, given the lethargy of Manhattan traffic and the stubborn reality of stoplights, his victim could easily keep up with him, as she did. She caught him at 80th Street and Lexington Avenue, then followed him to 78th Street, where he turned eastbound and she encountered two police officers with whom she shared her plight.

They pulled the suspect, an 18-year-old male, from his vehicle and arrested him for sexual abuse. Follow That Truck, Officer!