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Suspected car thiefs lunch plans end with arrest

Police find stolen Acura and capture primary suspect in citywide locker room thefts
by: CouRTESY OF Portland Police Bureau, With a warrant out for his arrest for stealing a truck and a dog from the Southwest Community Center, Dustin Torres was arrested April 2 after leading Portland police officers on a high-speed chase through North Portland.

Dustin Torres picked the wrong day to go to Tom's Pizza and Pub in Northwest Portland.

It was April 2, and the 36-year-old man - wanted for stealing a pickup truck with a dog in the back from the Southwest Community Center and suspected of a rash of other burglaries in locker rooms throughout Portland - was joined there by a group of Portland Police Bureau auto theft specialists, who decided by chance to meet there for lunch.

Officer Pete Helzer of the Northeast Precinct was the last to arrive and spotted a stolen 1997 white Acura Integra in the restaurant's parking lot. As Helzer was processing the car so it could be returned to its owner, Torres ran from the pizza place and jumped into the Acura, leading officers on a high-speed chase through North Portland.

During the chase, one of the Acura's tires blew out, and Torres jumped out of the disabled car. Officers swarmed the area with patrol cars, a police airplane and search dogs, finally catching Torres in the 3800 block of North Alaska Street.

Police said that while in custody, Torres confessed to burglaries at all three Portland Community College campuses, Portland State University, adidas' Portland headquarters, and the Multnomah Athletic Club. Police said he also confessed to a history of methamphetamine use, which had dramatically deteriorated his appearance since his September 2007 release from prison on another burglary charge.

None of the stolen items has been recovered. Police said Torres sold them immediately to buy drugs.

Torres pleaded not guilty at his April 9 arraignment on seven misdemeanor charges and eight felonies, including possession of a stolen motor vehicle and identity theft. He is being held at the Multnomah County Detention Center, on a fugitive charge from Clark County, Wash., until a May 16 court date that will determine whether there is to be a trial in the case.

'I never saw him, I never heard him'

Peter Seaman, a technology services employee at Portland Community College, believes that Torres stole a laptop computer and keys from PCC's Sylvania campus. The loss cost Seaman and the school about $2,000.

On Dec. 13, Seaman speculated that the thief had seen him with the laptop on campus and followed him to the locker room. A surveillance tape showed the person believed to be the thief following Seaman into the locker room.

'He was a very professional thief,' Seaman said. 'I never saw him, I never heard him.'

The locker where Seaman stored his laptop was touted by the gym manager as nearly burglar-proof, manufactured with a heavy steel door and a narrow seal.

But when a colleague of Seaman's entered the locker room and found the locker door hanging on its hinges, he realized that the man who had just passed him with a laptop case had probably stolen it.

But it was too late; the man had already disappeared.

Seaman said the locker must have been very difficult to get in to so quickly and quietly. People with those skills could take PCC classes to legally earn money, Seaman said.

'This guy who did this theft obviously had really good psycho-motor skills,' he said. 'The fact that a person chooses to use their talent like that is just sad to me. He could use that talent fixing cars, or working in the metal trades or working in industry.'

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