Five Golf Carts stolen from Various Locations around Isle of Palms, SC (UPDATED)

UPDATE (6-22-19): Two 17 year olds and two 14 year olds have been charged with a number of things including burglary and grand larceny. (Thank you for the update Matt Allen)

Isle of Palms, South Carolina, is one step closer to paradise than the rest of the idyllic coast line north of Charleston – a slim population center stretched along seven miles of residential roads with dunes and surf to the east and a slow moving channel to the west separating it from the main land.

It is one of the places that is associated with sun, surf and sleeping late. Retirees live here. They drive golf carts to the grocery store. In the past three months the biggest headlines from Isle of Palms has been the appointment of Kevin Cornett as the new city police chief – overlooking a staff of 22 officers and the discovery of a “massive” 3.5 foot skeleton of a sturgeon found on the beach – a story that ABC News, Channel 4, decided deserved three sentences and a photograph for an online story back in April this year.

In fact, Isle of Palms, a city of 5,000, is commonly listed as the most crime free community in the state. On top of that, the crime rate is down this year. It should be mentioned, however, that this statistic relies mostly on the point that there were 77 percent fewer traffic stops January through April this year compared with the same period of 2018. (When you have only a few traffic stops to begin with, it doesn’t take much of a statistical nudge to have that drop 77 percent.)

And then Wednesday night came along and all heck broke loose. In one night this week, perpetrators stole five different golf carts and abandoned them around the island, two of them suffering extensive damage along the way. One of these was found flipped over on a main thoroughfare. The other, a lifted E-Z-GO Express Series, was found in the ocean, parked in a spot that had waves lapping over the seats.

In the events that followed the next morning, Matt Allen, who rents golf carts on the island through his company, IOP Golf Cart Rental, said he woke up to a text from a customer who wondered why there was an extra golf cart on her property. Added to her message was the caveat that police thought it was stolen.

It was stolen. Insurance papers in the glove box allowed Allen to trace the owner and return that cart. At the owner’s home, however, it was discovered that four houses down was another stolen cart, abandoned on another property. The owner, it turns out, was the local golf course. While the second cart was returned, another was found half way in the road, which set up another search for the third cart’s owner. Soon after that, another cart was found flipped over on 34th Avenue. Soon after, the cart was found in the ocean, damaged beyond repair.

Among the troubling aspects of this slow moving crime spree is the point that the carts were stolen from five separate locations. The other disturbing factor is the point that the perpetrators did not seem to care what mayhem they left behind. One cart flipped over on the road; another was parked halfway into the road. Yet another was left in the ocean. All this adds up to disregard for community safety as well as property rights.

“Police are taking the incident very seriously,” Allen said. They have posted a note front and center on their Facebook page asking for residents to check their security camera tapes to see if there is any footage of the crime spree as it happened.

Facebook could help, but Isle of Palms is a close-knit community where you might not know everyone, but it certainly seems that way. Golfers talk. Grocers talk. Barbers talk. Retirees talk. It certainly won’t be long before someone who knows someone will provide police with a lead on this case.

According to Allen, he has already fielded several calls from owners and renters who want unique ignition system locks installed on their golf carts. “The perpetrators clearly made use of the fact that most golf carts rely on a universal key and something called the honor system to keep them from being stolen,” he said.

“A unique ignition locking system will cost owners about $150 including labor,” Allen said, although clearly this has not been a major concern of his business in the past. The honor system works until, well, it doesn’t. After that, unique locks and cameras will have to do.

Allen also suggested packing carts in the backyard, instead of right out in front of the house. You can also flip the driving mechanism from drive to tow. That won’t always stop a thief, but it will slow them down, at least temporarily.

Request for Assistance Regarding Golf Cart Thefts
If you have any information on this please call Crime Stoppers of the Lowcountry (843-554-1111 – you may remain anonymous and possibly receive a reward) or their non-emergency line (843-886-6522).

Timothy Baler has been a journalist for three decades and has had his work published in some of the nation's top publications, including The New York Times, The Miami Herald, National Wildlife and many more. He covered the economy for United Press International for eight years, but his true passion is the game of golf. The addiction took hold 20 years ago and since there's no known cure he's been at it ever since. Plays daily seven months of the year, says he goes into mourning for the other five.