Two men stole a fire chief's marked sport utility vehicle from a Center Moriches firehouse Sunday and slid it into a snowbank in Eastport before being arrested, Suffolk police said.
The East Moriches fire chief's red 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe was parked in front of the Center Moriches firehouse at 1:15 a.m. Sunday with the keys inside, Chief Bryan Kelly said.
It sat untended for "less than two minutes," as he went inside to check on his crew, which was covering for Center Moriches firefighters, Kelly said. When a 911 call came in requesting an ambulance, Kelly returned outside and the truck was gone.
"As a rule, probably every fire chief leaves a car on his ramp with the keys in it, so you can go out and respond quickly," said Kelly, who has been with the department for about 14 years, the past two as chief. But after the theft, he and other fire officials have decided to add automatic locking devices to the department's three SUVs to prevent future problems.
Surveillance video showed two men getting into the untended vehicle, police said. Patrol officers and aviation units searched through the early morning for the SUV, which was spotted at 7:20 a.m. by someone in Rocky Point, police said.
Police said they followed the vehicle into Eastport, where it slid off the road near a parking lot on Montauk Highway and North Bay Avenue and hit a snowbank in front of Tuttle's Mower Shop.
The men, who were not immediately identified, were arrested. Neither was injured. The vehicle's two front fenders were damaged and one of its tires had come off its rim, police said.
Kelly couldn't provide an estimate of the damage to the vehicle, which was being held in police impound, but said it would be covered by insurance.
For now, Kelly said, he'll hitch a ride with one of his two assistant chiefs' vehicles or hop on a fire truck to get to scenes.
"It's tough when you live in a small town; you don't want to believe these things happen," Kelly said. "But you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. Something like this can't happen again. Unfortunately, hard lesson learned."
With Nicole Fuller