Burglary Suspect Behind zotAlerts in Custody

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Three campuswide zotAlerts were issued on Monday after a robbery and burglary occurred on campus and one robbery occurred near the Culver/University intersection in Irvine. Of the two suspects involved in yesterday’s crimes, the first was arrested Tuesday morning, while the second remains at large.

The first robbery incident on campus and the robbery at the Culver/University intersection both were allegedly carried out by 25-year-old Irvine resident Joshua Benbrook, who was arrested by the UCI Police Department this morning.

In the first incident, at approximately 6:14 p.m., a UCI student was walking across the Watson Bridge, when the student was approached by Benbrook. Benbrook informed the student that he had a firearm, but did not display the weapon to the student. He then allegedly instructed the student to walk to the Student Center ATMs and had the student withdraw cash for him before fleeing the scene. The student subsequently called the police.

This incident resulted in the first zotAlert at 6:29 p.m., which stated: “zotAlert Robbery at Student Center, Suspect said he had a gun, none obs. Desc M/W25 5’9 blnd hair med build wearing a dark suit w/ dark vest. Call 911 if seen.”

According to the second zotAlert issued on Tuesday, within 15 minutes of the first incident, Benbrook approached a motorist at the Culver/University intersection.  The motorist, whose car had broken down, was waiting for a tow truck to arrive. Benbrook apparently pulled up behind the vehicle, and after a few minutes of conversation, asked the victim to follow him to his car. Benbrook then pulled out a firearm from his glovebox, took the victim’s wallet and cellphone and fled the scene in a red sedan.

This incident resulted in the second zotAlert at 6:54 p.m. which stated “zotAlert 2nd robbery occd 15 ago in the area of Culver/University, Irvine. Same susp, last seen driving a red 4 dr Chev or Ford. Weapon seen. Call 911 if seen.”

During their investigations following these incidents yesterday, UCIPD and the Irvine Police Department (IPD) learned that the Fullerton Police Department was looking into a similar robbery that occurred in March. In that incident, the same suspect, Benbrook, allegedly entered a convenience store in Fullerton, displayed a handgun to the cashier and robbed the store before also fleeing in a red sedan.

According to a joint police report issued by UCI, Cal State Fullerton and IPD, Benbrook was arrested this morning after leaving his home. Investigation is still ongoing to determine whether Benbrook was involved in any other crimes in Orange County.

In yesterday’s third incident, UCIPD received a phone call at approximately 7:22 p.m. from a professor in the Biological Sciences III building, who explained that a man broke into her office and left with a black bag carrying several laptop computers, books and a laser pointer. UCIPD is still searching for this suspect.

This third incident resulted in a zotAlert at 7:39 p.m. announcing that “zotAlert Burglary occd 10 ago Bio Sci 3. Susp M/B 30 6’2 190 bald, black sports jacket. Loss 2 laptops in a black bag. Fled from the area. Call 911 if seen.”

While these three incidents occurred successively in less than an hour, Senior Director of Media Relations & Publications at UCI Cathy Lawhon ensures students  and faculty that the probability of robberies on UCI property is low and that UCIPD is normally informed of “opportunistic crimes like bike and laptop thefts.”

Lawhon explains that, according to UCI crime statistics, including University Hills and the UCI Medical Center, “From 2009 to 2014 (the latest for which Cleary Act numbers are available) there have been only five robberies,” or theft crimes when the victim was present. Only UC Merced and UC San Diego have reported fewer crimes.

Lawhon also adds that, from 2009 to 2014, burglaries, or theft crimes when the victim is not present, dropped from 60 in 2011 to 29 in 2014 at UCI.

This afternoon, UCIPD Chief Jorge Cisneros issued a campuswide email with safety tips, including dialing 911 or using an emergency phone on campus when crimes occur, and to “immediately report all suspicious persons, vehicles and activities” to UCIPD. Cawhon also encourages “keeping laptops, purses and other personal items locked up [as] a deterrent to crime.”

The patrol division of the UCI Police Department is the department’s largest division, which seeks to prevent such crimes from taking place.

“In addition to responding to calls for service, patrol division personnel traverse the campus using marked and unmarked vehicles, dual sport motorcycles, bikes and foot patrols to protect life and property, prevent crime and keep the peace,” said Lawhon.

UCIPD has not yet advised avoiding certain areas of campus, and the department encourages those who have information about these incidents to contact Sergeant Charles Chon at 949-824-5223.

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