Stealers Wheel: Block banditry strikes again
Less than two weeks after a brazen theft of all four wheels from a Honda parked on a downtown cul-de-sac and a second incident at an apartment complex behind Putt-Putt on Rio Road, a Locust Lane resident awoke to a similar shocking sight as she left her house for work earlier this month: her 2002 black Acura Integra was up on cinderblocks, all four tires and rims missing.
"It was 15 feet from where I sleep," says the car's incredulous owner, Jennifer Crosby, who discovered the crime on Monday morning, April 6.
Is big-city crime rearing its ugly head more frequently in Charlottesville these days?
Actually, no, says Charlottesville Police Captain Allen Kirby– and the wheel thefts are an anomaly.
"It's something that's very rare," says Kirby, who says he can't remember another back-to-back tire theft in his 33 years on the force– and who says crime in general is down in the city since last year, despite tough economic times.
That piece of good news is little consolation to Crosby, who lives in Locust Meadows–- a quiet "tight knit" neighborhood of two cul-de-sacs, where, Crosby says, neighbors look out for each other's property. Yet even though Crosby's driveway sits in plain view of 15 other houses, no one heard a noise or saw anything suspicious, says Crosby, as the thief or thieves made off with the wheels.
Her story is eerily similar to the other recent wheel theft inside the city limits, which happened early in the morning on Saturday, March 21 on Roy's Place, a new cul-de-sac in the Ridge Street neighborhood. Like Crosby's neighbors on Locust Lane, residents of Roy's Place slept through the night, only noticing the missing rims on the black 2003 Honda Civic (pictured left) upon walking outside in the morning.
The Honda's owner, Stacy Libitz, says even the responding officer was surprised by the crime, claiming he'd only seen a wheel-less vehicle in movies.
But Frank Scafidi, spokesperson for the New York based National Insurance Crime Bureau, says such bold thievery is all too common– if not in Charlottesville, certainly in bigger cities.
"There's a market for those items," Scafidi explains, adding that usually the motive of the theft is to "get something that is quickly turned to cash" and that there is often a "corresponding problem with drug addiction."
Scafidi says the Bureau does not keep track specifically of the number of tire and wheel thefts, but he notes that Honda Civics in particular are generally popular among thieves. Wheel locks– bolts that require a specialized wrench to loosen– are effective deterrents for amateur thieves, although Scafidi admits that a determined and experienced criminal can find a way to either remove the wheel– or could just decide to take the whole car.
Both Crosby and Libitz had standard-issue wheels and rims that came with the car, and both had insurance. But while Libitz was able to replace her wheels without out-of-pocket expense, Crosby– whose replacement wheels ran $1,900– felt the sting of a $500 deductible; she plans to take extra precaution once her new wheels are in place.
"I'm definitely getting the wheel locks," she says.
In the meantime, Charlottesville police are on the lookout for the wheel thieves who they believe are likely responsible for both city thefts and possibly the county theft as well.
"We can speculate they were related," says Kirby, but "we won't know for sure until we can clear the cases up."