When Amber Seymour tried to leave work the evening of Aug. 11 at the Lawrence Cancer Center, the Tonganoxie resident turned on her car and noticed it sounded much louder than normal.
She got out and looked underneath her 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier.
“My entire exhaust system was laying on the ground,” said the Tonganoxie resident who works for Dr. Darren Klish’s office at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
Someone had stolen the car’s catalytic converter while it was parked in the LMH employee lot west of Arkansas Street that morning. Thieves took the part — in broad daylight — so they could likely sell it for a couple hundred dollars, possibly at a scrap yard.
“They slid underneath the car,” she said. “It was somebody who was my size or smaller, or they had jacked it up to get it out.”
That day, a co-worker gave her a ride home, and Seymour’s husband, who used to be a mechanic, repaired the car later.
But Lawrence police said she was one of two stolen converter victims in the same lot that day, and two more were reported to police there during the day last Friday, said Sgt. Matt Sarna, a Lawrence police spokesman.
Two other attempted thefts of catalytic converters were reported on vehicles July 26 in the parking lots of Kohl’s Department Store, 3240 Iowa, and Walmart, 3300 Iowa.
Sarna said the thefts are common because the converters contain metals that are in high demand, but he said it was unusual to have so many occur in a short period of time. The thieves also apparently were targeting Chevrolet Cavaliers because they were familiar with them, and they probably were looking for vehicles that were parked and left undisturbed for several hours.
“We ask people to be vigilant in watching parking lots for any suspicious people walking around,” said Sarna, who also encouraged people to install vehicle security systems.
He did say police were trying to determine if there is a connection to Kansas City, Mo., men who were caught in Lenexa Sept. 8 trying to steal a catalytic converter to any Lawrence cases. Lenexa Public Information Officer Dan Friesen said so far the suspects were linked only to cases in Lenexa, and he said they were arrested more than a week before the most recent Lawrence thefts.
Seymour said the crime hits victims hard because it damages vehicles and can be a hassle to fix. She estimated her family spent about $330 on a new converter that her husbanded welded onto the car. But she said most victims likely have to take their cars to a repair shop where it costs more.
Rick Bellinger, owner of Dale and Ron’s Auto Service, 630 Conn., said replacing the converter in an exhaust system could run $300 to $1,000.
“Cars that don’t have one won’t run properly, and they won’t idle properly,” among other problems, he said.
LMH officials said they have been warning employees since the recent thefts.
Seymour, whose office rents space inside the hospital, said she has not parked in the same lot since the theft.
“I’d rather they tried to break in my car,” she said. “It’s just as much of a violation as anything. I was so upset after it happened.”