For victims, these rides are no joy

September 03, 1997



Staff Writers

Jim Stone knows what it's like to have joy riders steal a vehicle, trash it and abandon it.

Stone's Jeep Cherokee was taken from its parking spot in front of his home in April. The next day, the Jeep was found in a field near Boonsboro.

It took several months and $15,000 to repair the Cherokee, he said.

"I understand the method (of stealing the Jeep) was similar to other such crimes," Stone said. The left rear window was broken out and the ignition switch was pried off.


"The police tell me that takes very little time and then the car is gone," Stone said.

The Maryland State Police Uniform Crime Reports system recorded 222 stolen vehicles in Washington County last year. In the first three months of 1997, 83 vehicles have been stolen. If vehicles continue to be stolen at that pace, last year's total would be exceeded by 100.

There are no statistics available on how many of the stolen vehicles were taken by joy riders.

The Washington County Sheriff's Department has recorded seven stolen Jeep Cherokees, five swiped Plymouth Caravans and three stolen Dodge Shadows so far this year, according to 1st Sgt. Doug Mullendore. Those three makes are the most common targets in the county, along with early 1980s vehicles, he said.

"They don't have the same security features as the newer vehicles. They're easy to defeat and get started," he said.

While the intent of a thief looking for a joy ride might differ from that of a crook looking to strip a car, Mullendore said the five-year, $5,000 penalty does not.

"They would receive the same penalty if they took it to a chop shop," he said.

Stone described the police as supportive, but said he wishes they could do more to solve these crimes.

Detective George Knight, who handled Stone's complaint, feels the same way.

"I want to encourage people to be sharp-eyed and to report suspicious activity right away by calling 911," Knight said.

Knight said he has some suspects but that there are people in the community who know who is responsible for the crimes and he wants to hear from them.

Most victims leave their vehicles fairly accessible to would-be thieves, Knight said. All too often, valuables are in plain view inside the vehicles.

"Many times, vehicles are unlocked and there are even spare keys hidden inside," Knight said.

Knight said many of the calls received by police have followed a pattern: Car A is stolen and driven to where Car B is parked. Car B is stolen. And so on.

Police said they are finding vehicles more seriously damaged than in the past.

"Often, they are driven through fields or on rough roads," Knight said. They are rarely undamaged when found and returned.

Washington County sheriff's deputies haven't been immune to the problem since cars may be stolen in the city and driven into the county, as was Stone's car.

Calls to Crime Solvers of Washington County could lead to a reward of up to $1,000.

Crime Solvers can be reached 24 hours a day at 301-733-4141.

The Herald-Mail Articles