ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – Criminals are no longer stealing cars for a joyride or to dismantle for parts. They want your car to commit violent crimes. A single mom from St. Louis County recently found out the hard way when her car ended up involved in a shooting in St. Charles.

Teen suspects ended up shooting a random Cracker Barrel worker on Jan. 9. Surveillance video from earlier that morning shows three teens—ages 14, 15, and 16—checking door handles.

They then reportedly drove Dawn Cotton’s car to the Cracker Barrel on Veteran’s Memorial Parkway, where a worker yelled at them to get out of his car. One of the teens shot the man twice.

Dawn spotted her car on FOX 2 video from our Bommarito Automotive Group SkyFOX, after the vehicle was ditched in Earth City.

“I’m like, ‘That’s my car!’” she said. “I feel horrible that my car was even used in something like this.”

Dawn got her car back with a damaged front end. She had to replace two rims and two tires. The teens also threw her child’s car seat out the window, so she had to buy a new one. Dawn, however, is more concerned with what could’ve happened.

“The fact that someone could have died,” she said.

“It’s a shame,” Major Ron Martin, North County Police Cooperative, said.

Martin said younger suspects are now stealing cars for new reasons.

“There is a different level of thievery going on and the purpose of a lot of individuals stealing cars now are to go out and commit other crimes.”

Martin said car thefts are up across the state. He pulled statistics from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which shows Missouri statewide car thefts jump from 24,298 in 2021 to 30,497 in 2022.

“It’s surging and we have to do something to put an end to it,” Martin said.

Dawn believes the teens were organized and watching, because she’d just turned on her car to warm it up, adding she had her key fob in her hand. What really scares her is thinking about another outcome because of how her own teenager reacted to their car being stolen.

“My son was running after them…so that could’ve gone completely another way,” she said.