LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Over the course of 2020, the city of Louisville saw a major increase in carjacking crimes, which were up 160%. In total, there were 211 reported carjackings.
The troubling trend has continued into the new year. In January, the Metro area averaged one carjacking per day.
Last summer, a federal task force was established in an attempt to curtail the problem plaguing the city. The task force is made up of multiple law enforcement agencies including the FBI, LMPD and Kentucky State Police, among others.
FBI Louisville Assistant Special Agent, Brian Jones said there are a number of factors that contribute to the increase of these crimes and says the task force has seen multiple groups targeting residents.
"We've seen everything," Jones said. "We've seen lots of juveniles that have been involved. Lots of gang members that have been involved. We've seen juveniles working with adults that have been involved. I don't believe it's one large group that's doing all this. I believe it's separate individuals, separate groups, sometimes they're working together."
However, one indicator that sticks out more than others is the involvement of juveniles in these cases.
"There's nothing solid to say that's exactly what it is, but we believe that not being in school has definitely contributed to some of this activity," Jones said.
In many cases, these crimes are not isolated instances. LMPD's Fourth Division Commander of Criminal Investigations, Cam Chenault, said that over half of vehicles taken in this manner are used for other violent crimes.
"We know these cars are used in more serious crimes, up to and including, murder," Chenault said. "When the car is taken from someone else, then used shortly after in a crime, and ditched 20 miles from the crime, it makes it a lot harder for our investigators to make arrests."
Carjackings were not the only violent crime that saw in uptick over the course of 2020, there were a record-breaking 173 homicides.
Chenault believes that getting a handle on the murder rate could begin with addressing carjacking.
"Carjackings and car theft, in my opinion are keys to reducing that number. it provides the vehicle, in many ways, to accomplish many crimes and get away with it," Chenault said.
On a November evening at the corner of Burnett Avenue and S 3rd Street, 24-year-old Austin Fitzpatrick pulled his car up in front of his apartment after a weekend camping trip. Once he exited the car, he was approached by two men, who wanted to take the car.
The men ended up taking his life. His death becomes another in a long line of homicides.
Fitzpatrick is remembered by his mother, Eva and sister, Erica as an artist, and 'Lover of Louisville,' they say he gave it everything he had.
"I don't know anyone who has had a family member be murdered. I don't know anybody who has experienced this," Erica said. "Even now it's like, how can I talk to people about this, on a level, how can people understand?"
It's been months since Fitzpatrick's murder, and the case still remains unsolved. The criminals, who stole the car, did not get far before ditching it. However, family fear this was not the culprits first time and it won't be their last.
"The lack of fear they had when they did this, they've done this before. they've totally done this before," Erica said.
The loved ones hope speaking up on Fitzpatrick's carjacking will encourage those who have information to come forward.
"We have to work as a community to get these solved, to help one another, to stop this," Eva said. "Staying silent, you're doing nothing."
Eva thinks of the day when someone is caught and face charges for her son's murder.
"I just feel like there will be some relief that whoever did this to Austin is no longer out there to do this again," Eva said. "They sacrificed their freedom for what they did to Austin."
Now, that the FBI is involved in the task force someone caught for a carjacking can be federally prosecuted. Additionally, if a victim is killed in the crime, tragically like Fitzpatrick, a criminal can face the death penalty as possible punishment.
"They're going to spend a lot more time in prison if they're charged federally that potentially what they could on the stateside," Jones said.