By Jo-Anne MacKenzie and Bill Kirk
SALEM, N.H. — In an apparent taunt to police reminiscent of similar activity in the 1990s, a suspect twice did doughnuts in the Methuen police station parking lot in a stolen Porsche early yesterday morning.
Not long after the Porsche 911 spun around the station lot for a second time in as many hours, Lawrence police reported the 2003 high-end car had flipped at the intersection of Swan and Berkley streets.
Methuen and Lawrence police arrived to find the car, but no suspect in sight.
The Porsche was one of three luxury vehicles stolen overnight from Cars Inc. on Raymond Avenue in Salem. The other two cars, a 1999 Mercedes Benz and a 2003 Land Rover, had not been recovered as of yesterday afternoon.
Thieves cut the alarm line at the shop, which also services Lamborghinis, Bentleys, Jaguars and other expensive vehicles.
Salem Detective Brendan Gleason said the vehicles were stolen from inside the garage and the keys had not been left in the ignition.
With information from Methuen police, Salem police were able to trace the Porsche back to Cars Inc., where the magnitude of the theft was discovered. While car thefts are not that unusual, Gleason said having three expensive vehicles stolen at the same time is unusual.
No one from Cars Inc. wished to comment yesterday.
Salem Police Capt. James Chase said police were called to the park-and-ride lot at Exit 2 off Interstate 93 at 5:18 a.m. yesterday. A patrol unit found eight vehicles had been broken into at that site, Chase said.
"We don't know yet if anything was stolen," he said.
The parking lot is well used and there are people around there at all hours, Chase, said, noting police have had trouble there "off and on."
Gleason said police believe the two incidents are related.
Chase said when he heard what happened with the Porsche later in Methuen and Lawrence, he was immediately reminded of stories he had heard about similar activity in the 1990s.
"It would be speculation at this point," Chase said early yesterday, "and I haven't seen it since I've been here. But in the '90s, it was gang related, they would taunt you to get you to chase them."
An Eagle-Tribune story from December 1994 reported similar activity in Lawrence and Methuen by members of the South Side Kings gang.
The vehicle of choice in those days was the Mustang. Thieves in a stolen sports car raced their engine and did doughnuts in front of both police stations, according to the article.
But their brazenness went even further.
Lawrence police received two calls just a day before the story was published from a person who said police cruisers were no match for his car. Then a stolen Mustang showed up in front of the station, revving its engine and blowing smoke. Lawrence police gave chase, but stopped.
A police lieutenant at the time was quoted as saying police didn't want to endanger innocent people in a high-speed chase.
"These guys will fly down the road a 100 mph with their lights off," the officer was quoted as saying.
Yesterday, the first time the Porsche burned around the station parking lot at about 2:15 a.m., it took off before police could give chase, according to Methuen Sgt. Kenneth Leone.
When the car returned at about 4:30 a.m., a Methuen police cruiser was nearby and the patrolman tried to follow the Porsche as it headed toward Lawrence, Leone said. But police lost sight of the high-performance car when it crossed the city line.
A few minutes later, Lawrence police reported the wreck. Salem police officials said they understood the thief stole another vehicle after crashing the Porsche, but there was no confirmation of that from Lawrence police yesterday.
Gleason said the Porsche was "pretty well damaged."
Both Gleason and Chase admitted there are high-performance cars out there than can easily outrun standard police cruisers. And, police said, a chase is not always worth the risk involved.
Chase said police have to weigh many factors when deciding whether to pursue a vehicle, regardless of whether the chase is being provoked.
"If it's a violent crime — an armed bank robbery, carjacking — we're more apt to pursue and attempt to stop the vehicle," he said. "But public safety is paramount. A stolen car is not worth someone's life."
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