They were stabs in the night. When Laura Reitz came out to her driveway at 9 a.m. Tuesday, the passenger-side tires on her Hyundai Tucson sagged lifelessly.
A neighbor brought an air compressor and filled the tires with enough air for the single mom to drive to a tire shop.
A technician at Ace Tire and Auto Repair on 49th Street N confirmed the manner of death: The tires were punctured on the sidewalls, close to the metal rims. Several hours later and after spending $150 for two used tires, the frustrated elementary school teacher drove home to file an online police report.
She was not alone. In December, there were 58 reports of tire slashings in an area several miles wide that includes Disston Heights, where she lives, and the Central Oak Park neighborhood, police said.
Many of the crimes, which are classified as "criminal mischief," have occurred in clusters. In the second week of December, police received reports of more than 30 autos with punctured or slashed tires in streets between 45th and 55th streets and 12th and 21st avenues N.
In the same neighborhoods in June, about 25 cars' tires were slashed in the area of 46th Street and 20th Avenue N, police said.
"It's just very disturbing," said Reitz, 44, a reading specialist at Maximo Elementary. "This is causing people a great deal of money and hardship and time and effort to go and get things fixed and repaired, especially around the Christmas season."
William Proffitt, a spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Department, said investigators are looking into the incidents as a crime pattern, but they have no suspects. The crimes usually occur in the dead of night, he said.
Although slashed tires have been associated with gang initiations, Proffitt said there was no indication that was a motive in these cases.
"All of these incidents appear to be random acts of opportunity for the vandals," he said. Police have stepped up patrols in the area, he added.
Steve Ives, owner of Ace Tire and Auto Repair, where about a dozen of the victims showed up recently, said the incisions were particularly malicious.
Like Reitz's damage, many were knife cuts along the wheel rim, which, unlike ice pick punctures, cannot be easily patched. That left most of the victims with no choice but to buy new or used tires. Most people these days are trying to save a buck and opt for the used variety, he said.
"I've got to guess it's just a bunch of kids running around," Ives said. "It's a shame. When you don't have your car, that's serious business."
Luis Perez can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2271.