Security at Austin buildings 'compromised' after burglary suspect gets master key

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- A master key that allows first responders easy and quick access to apartment complexes and commercial buildings was recently found in the possession of a burglary suspect, says a spokesperson with the city of Austin.

According to a memo issued by Austin's Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano, since the local Knox key system was compromised, the city is in the process of replacing and upgrading the system. The Knox Company supplies the lockboxes, which provides first responders with immediate access to a property in the event of an emergency.

The lockboxes are opened with a master key that is kept on each fire and emergency medical response vehicle in Travis County.

Andy Tate with the city of Austin says in November, Austin police arrested a man, identified as Anthony Kavanaugh, 28, on suspicion of burglarizing two non-residential properties using keys obtained from a locked Knox box opened using a master key.

Police were able to find the master key in question and they don't believe anyone else was involved. However, authorities do not know how the suspect, who was not a city of Austin employee, got his hands on the master key.

Because the lock system has been compromised, the city is working to replace master keys as well as replace the lock cylinders on the key retention boxes on AFD and EMS vehicles. The city will also have to replace all the lock cylinders on all Knox boxes located at more than 6,000 building locations across town -- at an initial cost of $300,000.

The city is not currently looking at changing the locks on key-operated gates and padlocks, which amounts to 17,500 locations across the county.

Buildings owners who are impacted will receive a notice that they have the option to have their keys and/or access cards returned to them during the rekeying process.

"AFD and EMS will also implement a new protocol to restrict access to the keys and enhance their overall security," according to the memo. The proposed security protocol also includes making sure there is a reporting process that accounts for all master keys on AFD and EMS vehicles on a daily basis.

To address the security issue on emergency vehicles, the city will still need to replace the onboard key retention devices, which isn't expected to happen until Fiscal Year 2019 or 2020. The estimated cost for that portion of security updates is $1.5 million.

Police Link Kavanaugh to Multiple Burglaries

According to an arrest affidavit, on Sept. 25, Dell Children's Medical Center notified Austin police about $31,000 stolen from the hospital's cashiers office. Surveillance video showed a black man entering the hospital and "covertly" opening various doors by an unknown method. Due to the angle of the camera, it wasn't clear to detectives how the suspect manages to open the door.

The hospital sent the surveillance video to other Seton Hospital security personnel and one person called back to say he recognized the suspect as a prior hospital patient. With the help of hospital records, police identified Kavanaugh as the suspect. But police wouldn't arrest him until a couple of months later.

On Nov. 13, Manor police said Kavanaugh broke into an urgent care center located on Shadow Glen Boulevard. In that burglary, Manor Police Sgt. Craig Struble said the suspect also stole money.

Struble says when his department sent out surveillance video to local law enforcement agencies to help identify the suspect, the Lakeway Police Department called back and said it recognized the suspect from other burglary cases and indicated he was gaining access to buildings via a master key.

Court records show Kavanaugh has an extensive history in prior theft cases. Kavanaugh was arrested by Austin police on Nov. 20. He's currently in the Travis County Jail where he's being held on 13 different charges.

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