The University Police has seen a sharp increase in the number of golf carts being stolen and damaged during the past few months - a crime which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence, according to Virginia law.
The police have reported 13 incidents of stolen or damaged golf carts since Aug. 1. Capt. Beth Simonds of the University Police Department said many students didn't realize that what they viewed as harmless fun was actually a Class 6 felony. In Virginia, stealing a golf cart is considered the same as stealing any motor vehicle, and shares the same penalties.
"I think a lot of students just don't realize how major the penalties are for stealing a golf cart," Simonds said. "We're hoping to educate the campus to avoid students from getting into serious trouble with the law."
Three students have been apprehended for golf cart larceny, but so far the university police has referred them to the dean rather than charging them with motor vehicle theft. But Simonds said that if the number of incidents did not start to decrease, police would have to start pressing charges.
If convicted of a Class 6 felony, the minimum prison time is one year, with fines up to $2,500. The maximum punishment is five years in prison, and any international student would face deportation.
Many of the golf carts that have been stolen are later found, although they have often sustained some degree of damage. Incidents have included students crashing a stolen cart into a parked vehicle, and attempting to drive a cart while it was still chained to a bench. On one occasion, a stolen cart was rolled into the lake.
If no one is apprehended for the theft, the student who registered the golf cart is financially responsible for the damages accrued.
Natalia Green, director of Parking Services at the University of Richmond, said there was an increase in the number of golf carts on campus, but that this number likely reflected the increase in the number of injured students. Simonds said many of the golf carts were unregistered, which violated university policy.
Simonds said it was important for students to know all the rules that apply to operating a car also apply to golf carts. For instance, a student driving a vehicle while under the influence would be subject to arrest for driving under the influence, she said. Police are also stopping golf cart drivers for having more than the allowed number of passengers.
Simonds said she hoped the number of incidents would go down once students were educated about the consequences.
"What a lot of students don't realize is that when you're an adult, you face severe charges," she said. "In the past, students have stolen delivered pizzas, without comprehending that what they're doing is actually classified as robbery. When you take something that's not yours - it's a serious crime."
Contact staff writer Margaret Finucane at email@example.com
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