Saturday, May 26, 2018
Public safety

This is the easiest way to have your car stolen

Delivery drivers, don't leave your cars running when you make a stop.

A teen in Clearwater stole a Chevy Impala driven by a Domino's Pizza delivery driver, then ditched the light-up sign and her purse in a trash bin.

One boy ordered Chinese food, then hopped in the delivery driver's Toyota Corolla when the man walked to the door.

"I used to get people like that," said Luis Herring Jr., 16, now in prison for carjacking. He would order food to a random address, from a phone number obtained on a computer app.

Even a Meals on Wheels volunteer fell victim to kid car thieves.

READ THE SERIES: Hot wheels: Kids are driving Pinellas County's car-theft epidemic. It's a dangerous — sometimes deadly — game.

READ THE SERIES: The chase: Cops, teen car thieves and a dangerous game

Bob Scheuerer, a 70-year-old Tierra Verde volunteer who delivers food to the elderly and disabled across St. Petersburg, pulled up to a squat house on 13th Avenue S in Childs Park one morning in October 2015. Boys on bicycles pedaled closer.

"Once I handed the person at the door the meal and I turned around, my car was about 50 or 60 feet down the road, pulling away at full speed," Scheuerer said.

Many drivers leave their cars running when they drop off plates, he said. They're usually gone for less than a minute, always in a hurry.

Meals on Wheels "does not have any sort of written policy that says volunteer drivers should turn off their car before delivering a meal," said spokeswoman Julie Piper Finley.

"We assume people are smart enough to figure that out on their own."

At least 53 times within a period of 18 months, kids stole cars people had left running — in front of a laundromat, at a walk-up ATM, at an auto repair shop, at a hospital valet. The drivers had been in a hurry — to pick up a kid from the babysitter, or a dog from the groomer, or unload charity items outside a church.

Scheuerer, the Meals on Wheels driver, had to borrow a phone to call for help; he'd left his inside. "It was like I was just dropped out of space and I had nothing to identify myself."

He said he had to pay a cab driver $175 to take him to get a new license, a new Veterans Identification Card, a new phone.

His Hyundai Sonata was gone for three weeks. In that time, the kids who stole it logged 5,000 miles. Police found the sedan outside a fish and tackle store. The front axle was bent, Scheuerer said, and the body dinged. It reeked of alcohol, and marijuana roaches littered the floor.

"It's like they're invading the privacy of your life," he said. "It's just a very empty feeling and a helpless feeling."

Scheuerer now locks his car, he said, but many other drivers do not.

Because they're only gone a few seconds. What could possibly go wrong?

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