Vehicles stolen from closed service centers

Thieves taking keys and cars left for service

November 12, 2010|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

With several vehicles stolen last weekend after they — and their car keys — were dropped off for service at Annapolis businesses that were closed, the city's police are advising drivers to take their cars for service when the shops are open so they can hand the keys to an employee.

"A lot of the drop boxes are not boxes at all," said Annapolis Police Major Scott Baker. "You are putting them [the keys] in an envelope and dropping them to the floor."

How the thieves are retrieving the keys is not clear. The businesses have burglar alarms, but no alarms sounded and nobody was noticed around the service centers during the off-hours. The common thread was customers reporting they had deposited their keys in the night drop box or slot when the service centers were closed and leaving their cars at the businesses.

There is no indication that the thefts are connected, Baker said.

"It may be they [thieves] are either fishing through the slots or they are sticking something in the night drop box or slot to catch the keys," Baker said.

Police suspect the vehicles were taken somewhat randomly. "It's a matter of convenience. This is what they came up with — you take your chances with what gets dropped off," Baker said.

This method of boosting cars turns up occasionally but tends not to be a persistent pattern, he said. About three years ago, several cars appeared to be stolen this way from service center lots in the West Street corridor. Police reported an arrest in connection with that case.

Police said the thefts under investigation from last weekend were:

•A 2004 Toyota 4Runner, gone from the parking lot of a Koons Toyota service area in the 1100 block of West St. The owner told police that he dropped off the SUV for service and placed the keys in the night drop box. Both the vehicle and keys were missing.

•A Toyota Sienna, also taken from Koons Toyota. Employees reported Monday that they could not locate the van or the keys.

A 2003 Toyota Corolla, the third stolen from Koons Sunday night or early Monday in the same way.

•A 2006 Audi A4, dropped off at the Criswell Audi service center in the 1800 block of McGuckian St., a block from West Street. Employees arriving Monday told police they did not see the car and did not receive the keys.

Steve Savageaux, Criswell's service manager, said this was the first vehicle theft he could recall from the shop, and he has no idea how it happened. The car's owner called him Wednesday afternoon to say the vehicle was recovered.

After the thefts a few years ago of vehicles left after-hours for servicing, Annapolis police spoke with service centers about the security of their after-hours drop-off arrangements. The business made changes in its drop boxes, he said.

Police suggested that if motorists can't leave their cars for servicing while the business is open, they should check to make sure they are not being watched and should listen for keys hitting the floor in a night drop slot.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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