Youth with no driving licence stole car to earn 'quick cash', endangered cops' lives when fleeing

Shaffiq Alkhatib
The Straits Times
May 4, 2022

A youth who was released from a reformative training centre on Dec 2, 2020, was on a supervision regime when he returned to a life of crime the following year.

Lakshan Saravanan, now 20, and a teenage friend hatched a plan last October to steal a car with the intention to sell it to earn some "quick cash".

Lakshan, who did not have a valid driving licence, then made off with a black Hyundai and switched its number plates with those belonging to another car to avoid detection.

When police officers caught up with him, he endangered their lives by driving in a rash manner to get away.

They arrested him later that day and found a stun device on him shaped like a USB thumb drive.

Last Friday (April 29), Lakshan pleaded guilty to nine charges for offences including stealing a car and driving in a rash manner. Eight other charges will be considered during sentencing.

The case involving his alleged accomplice, now 19, is still pending. The alleged accomplice cannot be named as those accused of committing offences before they turn 18 are covered under the Children and Young Persons Act.

Before committing his latest string of offences, Lakshan had committed earlier crimes and was ordered to undergo reformative training in November 2019.

Court documents did not disclose details of those offences.

Offenders given reformative training are detained in a centre and made to follow a strict regimen that includes foot drills and counselling.

He was released on Dec 2, 2020, and was placed on a supervision regime from then until Nov 26, 2023.

On Oct 29 last year, Lakshan and his alleged accomplice were having dinner when they hatched the plan to steal a car.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Andrew Chia said the plan involved finding a driver through "TeleHitch" - a group chat on messaging platform Telegram where drivers could accept requests from passengers to ferry them for a price.

DPP Chia added: "After boarding the driver's vehicle, they would subsequently trick the driver into leaving the vehicle with the engine running to buy cigarettes on their behalf, and thereafter drive off with the vehicle."

The pair carried out their plan at a Sengkang carpark at around 8pm the next day and Lakshan drove off in their victim's car when the man stepped out of his vehicle.

The victim lodged a police report at around 8.30pm. He also made a post on the TeleHitch group chat, stating that his car had been stolen.

Meanwhile, the two youths met a 16-year-old female friend and used a phone to post advertisements on Telegram to state that they had a car for sale. They also found their victim's post on TeleHitch.

In an attempt to avoid detection, Lakshan drove the stolen car to a carpark in Marine Parade Drive and swopped its licence plates with those belonging to another car before driving away.

On Oct 31 last year, his female friend received a message on Telegram from somebody who expressed interest in buying the car.

Court documents did not disclose the identity of this person but they later agreed to meet at a carpark in Yishun Street 21.

The court heard that Lakshan then drove the stolen car there at around 2am along with the girl.

The DPP said: "Several plainclothes police officers were stationed at the open carpark to ambush the accused. After the accused stopped the car in the carpark, the police officers surrounded the accused with their vehicles. They then exited their vehicles, knocked on the windows of the Hyundai and asked the accused and (the teenage girl) to exit the vehicle.

"The accused believed that the purported buyer was (the victim) and that the police officers were (the victim's family members). He thus tried to escape from the open carpark by performing a three-point turn with the police officers standing around his vehicle in close proximity."

The car struck two other vehicles, squeezed past some police vehicles blocking his exit and left the scene.

Lakshan later passed the stolen car to his alleged accomplice.

After that, he went to another friend's home where police arrested him at around 10.20am that day.

The court has called for a report to assess Lakshan's suitability for reformative training over his latest string of offences. He will be sentenced on May 20.

The Straits Times

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