Autos going missing
September 29, 2006
Twenty cars and trucks have gone missing since July 1 in Pitkin County and Basalt. And police investigators warn residents to lock vehicles and carry their keys with them.Sarah Johnson just moved to Aspen from Missouri. She left her 1996 dusty red Saturn Wagon in the parking lot of ACES, where she works as a teacher. The car was unlocked and a key was in a magnetic “hide-a-key” box on the vehicle. When she crossed the parking lot Sunday afternoon, she said she thought she was hallucinating. “Where’s my car?” she cried.She spoke with neighbors and called the Aspen police, who said there have been a number of missing cars lately. Police are confident Johnson’s car will show up.Most of the 20 missing cars were unlocked with the keys accessible – in the ignition or in a magnetic hide-a-key – said Ron Ryan, investigative coordinator with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. Thieves are not targeting specific vehicles – the missing cars range from an older Subaru wagon to sedans and pickups – nor are the vehicles new or luxurious, Ryan said. Thieves are not going for vehicles valued for their parts. The only consistency is that cars were left unlocked with the keys accessible. And because so many of the missing vehicles turn up, Ryan said thieves are driving the cars “for personal use.”Though Pitkin County has a reputation as a safe community, Ryan said leaving cars unlocked and keys out in the open gives criminals too much opportunity. Investigations concerning all 20 vehicles are ongoing, Ryan said, and some cases have shown up as communication breakdowns between friends. But of the eight stolen cars from Pitkin County, the four thefts from the Basalt park-and-ride alarm Ryan. He said the thefts constitute a pattern and suggest “some person or group of people,” doing multiple jobs. One car went missing from the airport and three from areas east of Aspen. The remaining 12 are from Aspen and Snowmass.Ryan said it is common to find cars abandoned after a “drunk’s ride home,” where an intoxicated person jumps into an unlocked car with the keys in the ignition as an alternative to the bus. But the number of missing cars since July is unusual.Three of the cars taken from the Basalt park-and-ride have been returned. The vehicles had been apparently used as transportation and some had slight damage. None showed signs of forced entry or tampering.Sarah Johnson asks the thieves to find a better way to have fun. She calls herself fortunate to have this happen in Aspen, because it is a place where “you don’t have to drive.” But the recent college graduate and new nonprofit employee can’t afford new wheels. Johnson was surprised that thieves chose her vehicle from among the lot’s newer vehicles, many with expensive roof racks and fancy radios. She said her dusty red, five-speed 1996 Saturn wagon has Missouri plates, 140,000 miles and “Leave no Trace” and Appalachian Mountain Club stickers on the rear window. Now a pedestrian, Johnson said the reliable car gets 40 miles to the gallon and added, “I want the thing back.”County and city officials have few leads on any car ring, but Ryan asks residents to report any suspicious activity, especially at the Basalt park-and-ride area. He asks residents to practice the most basic protection measures.”Don’t help them out,” Ryan said.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com.