Knox County investigators are warning about a group of criminal bandits they call the "Felony Lane Gang" after recent crime in West Knox County.
An East Tennessee woman says someone stole her purse out of her car on Monday afternoon at Carl Cowan Park.
She says she believed it happened while she was taking her kids to the restroom up the hill.
“We were gone five minutes, we came straight back to the car, and my six-year-old walked around to the door and said, ‘Mom, you have to see this,’” Sarah said. “And we looked in, and glass was everywhere and my purse was gone.”
All of her cards, money and everything else inside had vanished. She was in shock. She called the police.
“I was running through my head, my kids are ok, we’re ok, but everything I had was gone,” Sarah said.
Knox County investigators say unfortunately Sarah’s story is common, and they think it could be connected to the Felony Lane Gang.
Investigators say the Felony Lane Gang is not a gang in the traditional sense of the word, but a concept: several independent groups of suspects travel all over the country, stealing purses, money, and valuables--most often from cars in parking lots. They say it started decades ago, and most of the suspects come up from Florida and reach several cities throughout the southeast within a week.
“The Felony Lane Gang is not a specific group of people,” Knox County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Allen Merritt said. “The Felony Lane Gang is a method by which they obtain the property…they go out, they bust windows, they snatch purses.”
The Knox County Sheriff’s Office says they have seen activity like this in the past week, and they also see it fairly often throughout the year. One of their methods, investigators say, is breaking windows.
“Doesn’t always mean if someone breaks your window and steals something out of your car that you’re a victim of the Felony Lane Gang,” Lt. Merritt said. “But when we see five or 10 different burglaries all at the same time, roughly within hours apart, that is an indicator that we have a group of people participating in Felony Lane Gang activities in Knox County.”
Knox County has a task force dedicated to the Felony Lane Gang. Investigators say in the past few years, it’s identified about 20 groups and apprehended more than 30 suspects. In August, the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office prosecuted four people related to the crimes.
“The Sheriff’s Office and the DA’s Office is going to do everything we can to bring you to justice,” Lt. Merritt said.
Sarah hopes people are more aware so the same thing doesn't’t happen to them.
“I was tired, I was distracted, I had four of my kids with me, so I think as moms we need to be really vigilant about our own safety, we are always thinking about everyone else,” Sarah said.
The Knox County Sheriff’s Office wants you to contact them at (865) 215-2444 if you believe you are a victim of one of these crimes.