Hotel Workers Help Nab Suspected Car Burglars on the Upper West Side
By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — Quick work by a pair of eagle-eyed hotel employees helped police nab two suspected burglars who broke into at least two cars on the Upper West Side before dawn on Thursday.
A security guard and desk agent at the Days Inn hotel on West 94th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue spotted a suspicious-looking man and woman on the hotel's video surveillance system about 5 a.m.
After watching the man smash the window of a Saab station wagon parked outside the hotel and grab valuables from inside, the hotel staffers alerted police and followed the burglars for several blocks until officers arrived and arrested them, according to Days Inn security guard David Torres, who is also a freelance photographer.
The NYPD confirmed that they arrested Luis Santos, 30, and Maria Oquendo, 34, in connection with the break-ins.
Santos, who lives a few blocks away from the crime scene, was charged with auto stripping, possession of burglar's tools, petit larceny, and criminal mischief, police said.
Oquendo, who lives two blocks away, was charged with auto stripping, criminal mischief, grand larceny, possession of stolen property and possession of a crack pipe. She was carrying a credit card and a checkbook that had someone else's name on it when she was arrested, but it was unclear whether it was stolen from the cars, police said.
In the surveillance footage shown to DNAinfo, a man believed to be Santos is seen sitting on the hood of a Saab station wagon parked outside the hotel. He bounces up and down, presumably to test the alarm system, while his partner, believed to be Oquendo, glances up and down the sidewalk.
A few seconds later, the man walks to the driver's side window, takes a step back, and throws something at the car's driver's side window. He is seen on camera reaching into the car and grabbing something. Then he and his partner walk away as the Saab's headlights flash.
That's when Torres and desk agent Leo Lopez sprang into action. While Lopez called 911, Torres walked outside and trailed the suspected burglars to West 90th Street and Columbus Avenue, where police arrived. Torres identified Santos and Oquendo as the same people he'd seen break into the car outside the Days Inn, he said.
Three other cars on the same block were broken into early Thursday morning, Torres said. It's not known whether the same burglars were responsible for those break-ins too, police said.
Saab owner Richard Gold said his XM radio receiver was snatched, his driver's side window was destroyed and his car's windshield was cracked.
"I'm happy that no one was hurt," Gold said. "I'm mostly just inconvenienced. It's just time and money. And I feel sad that people have to resort to breaking into cars."
Carl Tanner, whose Toyota was also parked on West 94th Street, said thieves smashed his passenger side window and took his child's DVD player and a radar detector.
On Nov. 25, video cameras at the hotel caught another car break-in on tape, but in that case the thief got away, hotel staffers said.
Days Inn general manager Willie Singh said such burglaries are rare.
He said Torres and Lopez went beyond the line of duty.
"They're here to protect the hotel, but if they can do something to protect the community, that's great," Singh said.