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Archive for Tuesday, January 17, 1995

CAR THIEVES FIND EASY PICKINGS IN COLD-WEATHER WARM-UPS

January 17, 1995

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Motorists who like to warm up their car in the driveway on cold mornings should be wary, police warn.

The loud crunch on gravel alerted Brenda Belt that something was wrong last Tuesday.

It was another cold morning, and Belt, like many other Lawrence residents, had gone out a few minutes earlier to start up her car and defrost her windshield.

She was back inside her home getting Caitlin, her 2-year-old daughter, dressed when she heard the crunching sound tires make on the gravel driveway.

"I came out the door and saw it rolling," she said.

At first, she thought her car had slipped into gear.

Then, yelling, she ran down the driveway as she watched her $10,000, 1991 white Pontiac Grand Am being driven away.

Two men working on a nearby house told her they had seen two girls walking together and thought they might have been in the car.

Belt ran in her house and called 911. The dispatcher told her that three Lawrence police cars were on the lookout for the car.

And when police arrived at Belt's house a few minutes later, they had good news: They found her car. They stopped a 15-year-old girl in it at 19th and Massachusetts.

Belt complimented Lawrence's police department for recovering her car so quickly.

"You just never think something like that is going to happen. Especially in your driveway," Belt said. "I hate doing it, but I'll have to start locking it. I'm not the type of person who worries about things being stolen like that."

Sgt. Rick Nickell, a spokesman for the police department, said Belt was lucky.

"We were fortunate that the driver didn't make any attempt to flee," Nickell said. "There was no property damage involved, and nobody got hurt."

Nickell said Belt's experience is not uncommon in the winter.

"It's a problem for us when people leave their car running," he said.

For some people, the temptation to take the car is too great to resist.

"The vehicle is there," he said. " It is unlocked. And the person walking by needs a ride somewhere. It's just a crime of opportunity. They don't have a thought-out plan for it."

Although people could lock their cars when they're warming up, it wouldn't stop a determined thief, he said.

"There is the simple matter of punching the window, and your car is gone," he said. "We always encourage drivers to take their keys and lock their cars."

Another common mistake drivers make is leaving their cars running while going into a convenience store, he said.

"You think you're safe because you're a short distance away from it," Nickell said. "But they can get it moved before you can get back to it."

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