The Nelson family from Michigan was visiting Flagler County and St. Augustine. They’d gone to see Washington Oaks Gardens State Park at the north end of the county, and spend some time at the rock-ribbed beach there. They parked in the lot closest to the ocean around 2 p.m. last Tuesday. After returning to their Chevy Silverado pick-up, they discovered that cash, credit cards, debit cards and a 9mm Glock worth $700 were stolen.
By Wednesday, police had Caisy Frank, 40, in custody–in North Palm Beach–after a series of investigative maneuvers and the use of the sheriff’s Real Time Crime Center, which went live last year. Frank is a stranger neither to Flagler County nor to its court system, or to the court systems of New York, Connecticut and Georgia: he was charged in Flagler in 2013 and found guilty in November 2018 of the fraudulent use of a credit card in Circuit Court here, in a long-delayed plea deal reducing six third-degree felony counts and two second-degree felony counts to that single third-degree felony. His charges resemble some of the new charges he now faces, and charges he’s faced up north.
Teresa Nelson, 51, told Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies that while Carl Nelson, 72, and Eric Nelson, 41, were fishing, she heard a vehicle alarm go off but was certain it couldn’t be her pick-up truck, since it had been locked. So she didn’t think much of the alarm. It’s not clear how the alarm was shut off, since the family later went back to the vehicle and drove to St. Augustine, not yet noticing that anything was amiss. It was only later that evening, when Carl received a text message from his bank reporting a possible fraudulent use of his credit card, that he went to the pick-up to get his wallet.
That’s when he discovered the theft. The wallet itself wasn’t taken, but cash and the cards were (the thief left a $1 bill). Cards were also stolen from Teresa’s wallet. They called authorities.
One card was fraudulently used at the Palm Coast Walmart at 5:44 that evening to buy almost $200-worth of goods and another to buy $721-worth. Cards were again fraudulently used at Target not long afterward, to buy $1,230 worth in merchandise–a Bose speaker and two Apple watches.
A deputy spoke with a Target employee to get an idea about the possible suspect and used the time stamp on the purchase there to narrow down the analysis of video surveillance footage at that time, detecting a four-door SUV pulling into the Target lot shortly beforehand. The driver was clearly visible–in the parking lot as well as in the store itself, picking out and buying the different items with the stolen card. Video footage from Walmart was used to the same ends. (There, the thief bought more utilitarian items–a Manscaping Razor, bath gloves, acne cream, face masks, and so on.) But at Walmart the man makes a distinct move to shield himself from cameras.
Beyond Target, deputies were then able to use license plate readers to get the GMC Yukon’s license plate as it drove through town. It was the same vehicle that had been picked out in surveillance video at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park.
It was a rental from Hertz. The company informed detectives that the car was equipped with GPS, which traced the vehicle to South Florida. Detectives turned the information over to officers of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who found the vehicle at the John D. MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach. When FWC showed up, Frank fled. But it wasn’t a long chase: a drawbridge was going up just as Frank was hoping to cross it. Frank got out and threw a firearm over the side of the bridge–a dangerous move that could have been fatally misinterpreted–before officers put him in handcuffs.
Officers identified him. He had a New York State driver’s license, though it was suspended. He also had a Walmart bag in the vehicle containing the items that had been fraudulently bought, down to their serial numbers. The Glock was also recovered.
He was charged with nine charges–driving on a suspended license, fleeing and eluding police, reckless driving, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of pot, tampering with evidence, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, giving a false name to law enforcement, an out-of-county warrant from Georgia for larceny, and a warrant from New York for a parole violation.
According to a 2020 case in Criminal Court in Queens, N.Y., he’d been arrested in Queens in December 2019 on grand larceny and other charges, when he was already a fugitive on burglary and other charges from Connecticut. He was arraigned in Queens Criminal Court in December 2019 and released on his own recognizance.
“This type of crime would have taken days, to months, and possibly years or maybe never solved if we had not implemented cutting edge technology and created our Real Time Crime Center,” Sheriff Rick Staly said in a release. “The work of our crime analytics team along with constant communication between detectives and other agencies allowed law enforcement to arrest him once we found his current location. Of course a raised draw bridge helped too! This is a great example of how serious we are about keeping our community safe, keeping crime out of Flagler County and felons where they belong in jail. Don’t come to our county to commit crimes. We are going to get you.”
Further charges are pending.