Missing car traced to thieving kids, bad parents

May 25, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

MY DAUGHTER answered her door when I knocked. The look on her face told me everything I needed to know. She'd had happier days.

Jennifer, my firstborn, had been home with her brood of three all day. While tackling the chore of home-schooling 9-year-old Kaine, the oldest, and trying to keep his perpetual-motion jokester of a brother, 4-year-old Spencer, from going into overdrive, she had been scanning car ads in the newspaper. (Kaila, her 2-year-old daughter - the diva who's convinced this is her world and the rest of us are just pesky interlopers - was down for a nap.)

It was early afternoon when I arrived. Around 3 a.m. that morning, Jennifer said she heard noises - a car door closing and the car starting - outside as she went to the bathroom. Thinking little of it, she went back to bed.

The next morning my son-in-law left the apartment for work. He had parked their Dodge Caravan in front of the apartment about midnight after returning from the store. But now he looked up the street, down the street for the van that was no longer there.

The affliction that Sun columnist Michael Olesker has cleverly described as "absence of car" had claimed yet another victim in Baltimore. It was the rudest kind of welcome home greeting for my daughter's family of five, back in Baltimore after a two-year sojourn in a suburb of Atlanta.

Her husband had worked for a company there that went belly up in the economic tailspin that resulted from the events of Sept. 11. (That gives me reason No. 7,849 to despise O-Slimy bin Laden.) The family returned to Baltimore, where my son-in-law found a job that required him to use the van. No transportation, no work. The varmint who had stolen the Dodge did more than just commit grand theft auto. The revolting weasel was trying to take food from the mouths of my grandkids.

So there Jennifer sat, scanning the car ads to see if there was something she and her husband could buy, like, immediately. She didn't think the van would be in working condition when it was found, if it was found at all. Yes, they had filed a police report, but, she wondered, how often are stolen vehicles recovered in one piece?

Spencer grabbed a quarter piece of dark-meat chicken I had brought with me. He marched into the kitchen with it, then returned for the knife, fork, cornbread and napkins. He trudged into the kitchen again while his mother and I continued to talk.

"I'll call around and see if I know anybody who's selling a car at a reasonable price," I told her, knowing I was being of little to no help. I left soon after Spencer returned with the chicken, which was now completely skinless.

"Uh, Spence, did you know there are more parts to a piece of chicken than the skin?" I asked before departing.

I drove along Groveland Avenue and made a right at Eldorado, went up a block and then made a left at Belvieu. I turned left on Belvedere Avenue and crossed Groveland again when I saw a police car stopped behind a van. Two officers had two young men spread-eagled on the ground. I went around the vehicles and stopped at the light.

"That couldn't be Jennifer and Kai's van," I said to myself at the light. "No thief could be that stupid."

But they were. The guys handcuffed on the ground were, indeed, the van thieves. Police told Jennifer later one of these characters was 15, the other 14. It was the sixth time he'd picked up the 15-year-old for one crime or another, one officer told Jennifer.

"So much for effective parenting," I commented when Jennifer told me the news. I remembered the time she came for a visit around 10:30 on a school night and lamented the number of children out on the street.

"My children are at home asleep," she said. "What's wrong with these people?"

A complete lack of parental skills is what ails them. Mr. Car Thief's parents clearly have no control of their boy, the one police charged with the crime. If he keeps along the path he's going, he may end up on death row just like Wesley Baker, recently spared execution by a cynical political ploy. If the boy does, we'll hear many a pitiful wail about how poor and unfortunate he is.

"Have his parents come over and offered an apology yet?" I asked Jennifer. Of course they hadn't. Chalk up another mom and pop who figure their job was done about two seconds after conception.

The happy ending to this tale is that the van was recovered with damage to the ignition only. The repair will cost some money, but Jennifer and Kai have a plan for how to recover their loss.

They're looking into the possibility of suing the parents of both boys.

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