Texas EMS agency gets anti-theft gear after rash of stolen ambulances

All vehicles are outfitted with an anti-theft device, and EMS providers have a locking device that allows them to secure their vehicle from a distanc

By Mark Wilson
Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services has given medics new tools to prevent thieves from stealing their ambulances in response to a rash of thefts in late 2016 and 2017.

All EMS vehicles are now outfitted with an on-board anti-theft device, officials said. Medics were also provided with a locking device that allows them to secure their vehicle from a distance, if necessary.

The new gear was acquired after the agency faced a series of ambulance thefts that started more than a year ago.

On Dec. 3, 2016, a man hopped into an unattended ambulance from the former University Medical Center Brackenridge around 9:15 a.m. and took off on U.S. 183.

Police said a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper tried to pull the man over on U.S. 190 near Lampasas County Road 4330, but he refused to stop and kept traveling to Killeen.

The man, identified by authorities as David Oliver III, was eventually arrested a little more than an hour after he stole the vehicle, police said.

He was charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and evading arrest.

Then, on Christmas Day in 2016, 28-year-old Rashard Williams stole an ambulance while two medics were in the back caring for a patient.

The crew had no way of getting the man to stop, or informing him that a patient was inside.

Williams abandoned the vehicle at the Brook Apartments on Woodland Avenue and fled, police said.

An arrest affidavit said he was picked up on unrelated charges after the theft, and investigators identified him as the suspect later.

A third incident followed a few months later, on April 3, 2017, when a woman who had just been released from St. David’s South Austin Medical Center found an unattended ambulance outside and hopped in.

The woman, identified by police as Shelly Robinson, drove a short distance and left the vehicle.

Police tracked the ambulance with GPS and found it empty in the 300 block of Ben White Boulevard.

Robinson was arrested the next day on a public intoxication charge, and later identified as the suspected thief using video footage of the incident.

The thefts were a wake-up call to authorities, who began researching steps they could take to protect the agency’s fleet and personnel.

EMS Capt. Jason Beggs said the new anti-theft measures were completed in the past few months, and he was not aware of any successful thefts since they were rolled out, though there has been at least one attempt.

Last week, 34-year-old Robert Dunn was arrested on a third-degree felony theft charge after he tried to steal an ambulance at East Sixth Street and the Interstate 35 service road around 5:30 a.m., according to Austin police.

An arrest affidavit said two medics were caring for a patient in the back of the vehicle when they heard the driver’s door open.

The medics looked into the cab and saw a man trying to put the vehicle into drive. He was unable to get the ambulance moving because of an anti-theft device, officials said, and the medics approached him and ordered him out of the vehicle.

“It worked, so we’re happy with our system,” Beggs said.

Copyright 2018 Austin American-Statesman

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