HOLLY HILL, Fla. – A Volusia County man who was determined to find his stolen car managed to locate the vehicle just two days after a thief drove off in it.
“When I pulled up behind that car and saw my tag, I almost jumped through the roof,” Larry Burgess said. “I said ‘Oh my god, that’s my car! That’s the stolen car!’”
Burgess was shopping at Publix on Ridgewood Avenue on Oct. 7 when he mistakenly set his car keys down on the customer service counter before moving to another register.
As Burgess was talking to the clerk, another customer covered the keys with a piece of paper and then slipped them into his pocket, store surveillance video shows.
Cameras captured video of the same man driving off in Burgess’s black Hyundai Genesis, according to police.
[TRENDING: Worker runs over 10-foot Burmese python at Kennedy Space Center | FEMA hiring workers to help with Hurricane Ian recovery, agency says | Become a News 6 Insider]
“I went out of the store to look and see if I left (the keys) in my car, and my car was gone,” Burgess said. “That’s how fast it happened. It was already gone.”
Burgess reported the theft to the Holly Hill Police Department, which dispatched officers to the grocery store to collect security videos and photos of the car thief.
The agency entered the stolen vehicle’s tag number into state and federal criminal databases and asked the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office to notify neighboring law enforcement to be on the lookout for Burgess’s car, records show.
But Burgess wanted to try finding it himself.
“I just wasn’t going to sit around the house and do nothing,” Burgess said. “Police are busy. They have a lot of things to do besides look for a stolen car. I get that. So I just wanted to help them out and help myself out.”
Using his other vehicle, Burgess said he spent much of the next two days driving through Holly Hill in hopes of spotting his stolen Hyundai.
“Every time I saw a black car, I looked closely to make sure,” Burgess said. “It seemed fruitless for a very long time. Then all of a sudden, I struck gold.”
As Burgess drove along U.S. 1, he looked over at a thrift store and noticed his car parked outside the building.
“I was in shock,” Burgess said. “I just couldn’t believe it. I found the car.”
Although the vehicle was unoccupied when Burgess drove up, he decided to block the car in by parking his other car close to the rear bumper.
Shortly after Burgess said he called 911 to report the recovery, a man he recognized from the Publix surveillance videos exited the thrift store.
“He says, ‘Do you mind letting me out? You’re blocking my car.’ I said, ‘That’s not your car, [expletive]. That’s my car!’” Burgess said. “He said, ‘I just bought that car two days ago.’ I said, ‘No, you didn’t. You just stole it two days ago at the Publix and you’re on video, [expletive]!’”
After that exchange, Burgess said the thief ran away.
Holly Hill police officials said they would have likely recovered Burgess’s car without his help, particularly since it remained in the area days after the theft.
Law enforcement agencies generally discourage theft victims from attempting to recover stolen belongings on their own and warn that confronting suspected criminals could put people in danger.
Burgess, who expressed his admiration for law enforcement, said he respects that advice but also wanted to be self-sufficient.
“I’m used to doing things for myself,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”
After officers arrived at the thrift store and began examining evidence inside Burgess’s car, they identified the suspected thief as Anthony John Romine.
Romine, 27, has previously been arrested for theft and drug offenses in Volusia County and resembled the person seen on the Publix surveillance video stealing Burgess’s keys and car, records show.
Inside the car, officers recovered numerous photographs of Romine and his girlfriend.
“That’s him,” Burgess said as he looked at the photos, according to video captured by an officer’s body-worn camera.
“You can’t make this up,” the officer replied.
While officers were examining Burgess’s recovered car, a woman who identified herself as Romine’s mother gave them the keys to the car and apologized to Burgess, police video shows.
“I do apologize for him,” Jennifer Romine said as she appeared to cry. “I guess he was just scared. He didn’t know what to do.”
Romine’s mother is not accused of any crimes.
Police located Romine about two weeks later and arrested him for grand theft, records show.
Romine posted a $15,000 bond and was released from the Volusia County jail on Oct. 22.
Days after his release, authorities say Romine committed credit card fraud. Police arrested him again Oct. 31 on new criminal charges.
Romine, who was being held in jail without bond Tuesday, could not be reached for comment.
“Hopefully he’ll learn a lesson,” Burgess said. “I did what I had to do.”
You can listen to every episode of Florida’s Fourth Estate in the media player below: