Double trouble: Couple hit by two car thefts in two months

March 15, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

Elizabeth Vaccaro brought her 1993 Ford Tempo into Columbia's new car dealership March 4 for a windshield wiper replacement, expecting to leave with the vehicle after a short wait.

Instead, she spent the morning filing a stolen car report with Howard County police.

"I didn't know what to say. I was in shock," said Ms. Vaccaro, 25, upon learning from a service worker at Apple Ford -- which opened in January as Columbia's first auto dealership -- that her car had been stolen from the service area.

Ms. Vaccaro's car was recovered over the weekend in northeast Washington. She took a day off yesterday from her job as a sales coordinator for a Baltimore shipping line to retrieve it from an impoundment lot there.

It wasn't the first time Ms. Vaccaro had gone through such an unsettling experience. Two months ago, her fiance Neil Berger's Jeep Cherokee was stolen from the parking lot outside the condominium they share in Long Reach village. The Jeep was recovered, although it sustained damage. The Tempo also had minor interior and exterior damages.

Ms. Vaccaro and Mr. Berger are among a growing number of victims of vehicle theft, a crime that continues to increase in Howard County even as other types of offenses show a modest decrease. In 1993, 1,079 car thefts were reported, compared to 929 in 1992, a 16 percent increase. Police say the recovery rate is 85 percent, but reported only 173 arrests for vehicle theft last year.

"Primarily it's juveniles stealing cars, a lot of joy riding," said Sgt. Steve Keller, a Howard County police spokesman. "The majority of car thieves we arrest are under 18. You'll probably find that's true throughout the metro area, but there are professional car thieves and chop shops."

Ms. Vaccaro said she is disturbed that her car was stolen from a dealership. "I could see if I left it overnight, but I was there waiting and someone walked away with it in broad daylight. It's hard to believe with all those people around."

But George Doetsch, Apple Ford president, said it's nearly impossible to monitor every movement in an operation that employs 110 and processes 60 repair orders per day. An Apple Ford mechanic saw a man standing outside the service area while Ms. Vaccaro's Tempo was being repaired, police say.

"I think somebody waited by the back door who wanted to steal the car, came in and took it," said Mr. Doetsch. "If someone wants to steal something in a dealership and they have a scheme for it, there's not much you can do to control it. We did everything as diligently as we could."

Apple Ford provided a rental car to Ms. Vaccaro, who is waiting to hear from her insurance company about repairing the damage.

Mr. Doetsch said thefts from auto dealerships are common, and that other businesses such as valet parking services and shopping malls also have difficulty guarding against the problem. Any theft from a dealership typically is handled by the vehicle owner's insurance company, he said.

"If a car is stolen from a mall, you don't go after the mall," he said. "Unfortunately, it's an auto dealership, and people have a different reaction."

Of more than 1,000 vehicle thefts last year, Sergeant Keller said only a few vehicles owned by customers were stolen from dealerships, but that thefts of new cars off dealership lots were more frequent.

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