A Grants Pass man is suspected of using a metal-working tool to break into lock boxes of six cars parked at Medford car lots, stealing the keys inside and driving the vehicles away, sometimes as gifts for friends, police say.

A Grants Pass man is suspected of using a metal-working tool to break into lock boxes of six cars parked at Medford car lots, stealing the keys inside and driving the vehicles away, sometimes as gifts for friends, police say.

Leroy Raymond Brabec, 38, is in the Jackson County Jail on six counts of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. His bail is set at $54,000, jail records show.

Medford police said Brabec stole the vehicles during January. Eleven vehicles were reported stolen from car lots during the month and six had the same lock box key method of entry. The other five were started with keys swiped from dealership buildings, police said.

"Out of those 11, we've essentially narrowed them down to six in which the (signature) was very similar on all of them," Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said. "In some cases, Brabec would break into the lock box and steal the key during the daytime and come back at night."

Officials said they believe Brabec was high on methamphetamine during at least some of the break-ins. They added Brabec's past experience with metal working afforded him the skills to break into the lock boxes.

"I can't think of another case where they were broken into so easily," Budreau said of the lock boxes. "He's quite familiar with working with metal."

Medford police noticed a spike in thefts of newer cars from Medford car lots in January, they began a joint investigation with Oregon State Police, the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety, and the sheriff's departments from Josephine, Douglas and Lane counties.

The vehicles reported stolen to all those agencies were being recovered in Josephine County, undamaged and sometimes stored under tarps. One of the vehicles, a Chevy Camaro, was stolen twice, Budreau said. Police said Brabec gave a Dodge Journey to a homeless friend to live in.

Budreau said authorities got a break in the case during a Jan. 24 car chase in Grants Pass involving a reportedly stolen car. The vehicle was found empty in the 1000 block of Plum Tree Lane, but witness statements pointed to Brabec as the driver.

He was indicted in the Medford thefts and a warrant was issued Feb. 20. A tip Wednesday helped police track Brabec to the Travel Lodge, 1950 Vine St., Grants Pass. Brabec attempted to run but was chased down with help from a police dog.

Police arrested and jailed Brabec after interviewing him.

The case is still under investigation and he could be indicted on similar charges in neighboring counties, authorities said.

— Ryan Pfeil