ST. LOUIS – It has become a crime epidemic coast-to-coast that now hitting St. Louis hard. Authorities are reporting several dozen catalytic converters stolen from vehicles in recent months.
Here’s a common scenario: suspects case neighborhoods, most often city neighborhoods where people park on the street. The vehicle they most often target is the Honda Element.
“It sits up high enough. They don’t have to jack the car up off the ground,” said Jim Whyte, executive director of the Central West End Neighborhood Security Initiative. “It’s easily accessible. They use portable, battery operated ‘Saws-Alls.’ They’re just predators.”
You hear a cutting or sawing noise in a doorbell video from about two weeks ago in a neighborhood near the St. Louis Science Center just before 8:30 in the morning. You see a blue car parked in the street alongside a Honda Element.
A victim confronts the suspect, who then speeds away.
The Central West End Neighborhood Security Initiative just released a photo of another suspect taking off after being caught in the act two weeks ago on West Pine.
One week ago, a dark car with a grey or silver passenger fender, pulled alongside Kevin Shrake’s Honda Element just before 3:30 p.m. in a parking lot near Kingshighway and Lindell. Video shows one suspect appearing to act as a lookout as another steals his catalytic converter.
“I came out after work, started up the car, and it sounded like an airplane going off,” Shrake said. “When I took my car to the auto body shop, the guys at the auto body shop said, ‘Join the club.’”
The converters are pollution control devices in a vehicle’s exhaust system. They contain precious metals like platinum, which thieves can strip and sell for about $100 per theft.
“Yeah, they said all the time they’re doing this and that sometimes even come back for the second one, that’s what I’ve been hearing,” said a woman who just had a converter stolen from her Element just outside her Central West End home.
The victims end up with repair bills between $1,000 and $2,000.
“There’s been multiple shuttle vans that have been targeted, auto dealerships that are targeted,” Whyte said.
Whyte called on automakers to develop new technologies that don’t rely on those precious metals; called on all drivers to be more vigilant; and called on anyone who sees something to say something by calling the police or leaving anonymous tips with CrimeStoppers at 866-371-TIPS.