CORONA (CBSLA.com) — John Lay was fed up with mail thieves targeting his Corona neighborhood.
Over the past few weeks, his security cameras have caught several suspicious vehicles stopping at the mailboxes along his street.
“We see them almost every night,” said Lay. “We post on our neighborhood watch page – Here’s the cars that we’re looking for.”
Early Tuesday morning, Lay decided to park behind his mailbox to see if he could catch a thief in the act and take a picture of the suspect’s license plate.
Soon after, he saw a van pull up and someone reach out the window, Lay said.
“I was surprised that he was that brazen,” Lay said. “And then, I was frustrated because there was a dealer plate on the car.”
He called police and told them he was going to follow the van until officers could catch up with the suspect.
“Kept a safe distance away. Stopped at all the stop signs,” Lay told CBS2’s Tina Patel.
By the time police caught up with the minivan, the driver took off. They pursued the vehicle for a while before backing off because the driver was going extremely fast.
Officers said while they were investigating that case, they came across another vehicle suspected in previous mail theft cases.
They arrested 38-year-old Richard Smith of Riverside and 41-year-old Elissa Aguilera of Hesperia after finding stolen mail and credit cards in their car.
Police said they would not have been able to make the arrests without tips from the community.
But they have a warning for people who want to try their own stakeouts. “Be aware that your safety comes first. Do it in a manner that’s not going to jeopardize yourselves, especially if you have a family with you,” said Corona Police Det. John Samano.
Police advised getting a locking mailbox and protecting your outgoing mail.
Lay said he tries to pick up his mail as soon as it’s delivered. “If everyone gets their mail, then they won’t have anything to take,” he said. “And hopefully, they’ll get frustrated and go somewhere else.”