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Published: Friday, 8/22/2003

Car thieves have eye out for Dodges, Plymouths

BY CHRISTINA HALL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Thomas East was headed to church when he saw that his ride - his 1993 Dodge Spirit - was missing from in front of his house.

Yesterday he saw the car for the first time since it was stolen. Two front windows were broken, the ignition was gone, and there was some body damage. The West Toledoan spent the rest of the day getting a release for the car.

“It's just frustrating, both emotionally and physically,” he said. “It's a very frustrating experience.”

Some may consider Mr. East lucky. He had another car to take to church, and another church member offered him a vehicle. He has insurance, and he's getting a rental car.

But others may not be so fortunate. Toledo police auto squad detectives have seen an increase in thefts of Plymouth and Dodge vehicles throughout the city the last few weeks, with one report dating to mid-July.

Detective Jay Schramm has received 22 reports of stolen vehicles and recovered stolen vehicles of those makes. The early to mid-1990s models that have been targeted are Acclaims, Caravans, Shadows, Spirits, Sundances, and Voyagers.

A few juveniles were arrested after they were found in some of the stolen vehicles. The detective said juveniles may be taking the vehicles for joyrides, going until the vehicles run out of gas or they find another car to take.

“It's appalling that in the year 2003 a 12-year-old can steal a car,” said Neal Wisner, senior special agent with the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Detective Schramm said the targeted vehicles either were unlocked or the thieves broke windows to get inside. The suspects then pried out the ignition and may have used a screwdriver to start the vehicle.

Authorities said there are ways people can protect their vehicles from theft. Lock them up and keep them in well-lit or secure areas, such as behind a gate or in a garage.

Use car covers or anti-theft devices, such as alarms, ignition locks, or steering wheel collars. If an alarm is used, make sure the kill switch is activated so the ignition will be disabled if someone tries to steal the vehicle. Many newer vehicles, including Chryslers, won't start without a key that's programmed for that particular vehicle.

“Chrysler has promised us - meaning law enforcement, the insurance industry, and NICB - that by model year 2007, every Chrysler product will have standard equipment with an [engine] immobilizer. This is a good thing,” said Mr. Wisner, a former Ohio Highway Patrol trooper who's been with the NICB for nearly 23 years.

He said there are a few reasons that the Plymouth and Dodge vehicles may be targeted. First, there are more of them to take. “There are so many out there. In Toledo and Detroit, American products are kings,” he said.

Toledo detectives said older-model American vehicles are more popular steals in the city. That coincides with the most current data available from NICB, which shows American vehicles were the hot ones to take in Ohio and Michigan in 2001.

Yesterday the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, reported the Cadillac Escalade sport-utility vehicle has the most frequent theft claims among 2000-02 model passenger vehicles.

Mr. Wisner said thieves also like vehicles without anti-theft devices, which many older models don't have. “The crooks will always follow the path of least resistance,” he said.

Mr. East wishes that wasn't the case. He never thought his car, which was still in good shape, would be taken. Now he's planning some changes so it doesn't happen again.

“I'm definitely going to put an all-night light in front of my house,” he said. “And we may get car alarms.”



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