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First Floods, Now This: Onion Creek Residents Face Break-Ins, Thefts

The holidays can be prime for home break-ins – after all, that’s when people go out of town for a few days and leave their homes unattended.

But imagine what happens when an entire neighborhood is forced out of their homes – and the vast majority of houses remain uninhabited for almost three months. That’s the situation in flood-stricken Onion Creek in southwest Austin.

Pastor Mike Marcelus lead a recent community meeting in Onion Creek. Out of several things on the agenda, Marcelus quickly realized attendees needed to talk foremost about the break-ins.

“Has anyone had copper stripped out of their houses?” Marcelus asked the crowd. One of the numerous hands that went up was Kat Aimes’. “Hardly anybody is down there,” Aimes said. “I’m like one of two people on that block that is staying there.”

Almost everyone at the meeting had a story to tell. The same is true on the streets of Onion Creek.

Linda Donovan doesn’t live in the neighborhood but she owns a small ranch there. Each time she’s visited since the flood, she’s noticed missing things – so many now, it’s gotten that she keeps a mental inventory.

“I do a little check,” Donovan says as she walks through her property, “[of] who stole what.”

She first noticed small things – like her boots – were gone. But lately, thieves are getting bolder. They recently took a flatbed trailer Donovan used to haul hay.

On the other side of the creek opposite Donovan’s property sits Julian Arrianga’s home. He has yet to move back but he visits periodically to keep an eye on his house. He recently noticed his entire fence has been stripped out. Instead of a fence, Arrianga now has an orange net-like cloth surrounding his property.

Austin Police Department Commander Todd Gage says one of the many challenges officers face patrolling Onion Creek is that most break-ins occur at night. “There’s so much renovation going on down there,” Gage says, “[so much] construction and workers, that it’s hard sometimes to figure out, ‘Is this person really there because they are trying to help? Or is this person there because they are trying to steal?’”

Austin and Travis County law enforcement are asking neighbors to report the crimes. They hear through word of mouth that break-ins are taking place – but with few reports, options for police are limited. Until more reports come in, both city and county officials have stepped up patrols in the area.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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