SALADO — A Salado Police officer patrolling Tuesday night surprised a group of thieves on the prowl.

One thief who wore a bright orange ski mask was so surprised he dropped an AR-15 reported stolen in December from Killeen, Salado Police Chief Pat Boone said Wednesday.

That person is believed to be a Killeen gang member who is known to the Killeen and Salado police departments.

Two males perused the streets late Tuesday night in the area of Arrowhead Drive and checked for unlocked vehicles and valuables. Another male stayed in a getaway car.

When the males saw the officer, they ran. That’s when one dropped the rifle and the other found an unlocked car, stole it and drove away, Boone said.

Evidence left behind Tuesday night during the break-ins may provide valuable information that leads to arrests, he said.

Boone’s team has been working since October with the Killeen Police Department to solve and stop vehicle burglaries. All of the stolen or ransacked vehicles have been unlocked with the keys left in them.

Three vehicles have been stolen in Salado since October, Boone said. Officers found one wrecked in a Salado ditch after it was reported stolen in Killeen.

The Bell County Sheriff’s Department also had stolen vehicle and burglarized vehicle reported, Maj. T.J. Cruz said.