BY ERICA POUR Staff Writer
Have you ever walked out of a grocery store and forgotten which row you parked in? You frantically look around and punch your key’s lock button, hoping to hear your car chirp in response. Of course, within a few moments, you typically realize that your slight panic attack was premature because your car was parked exactly where you left it.
Unfortunately, when a scenario like this happened to me, my car never chirped back. Though here at McKendree I’ve had everything from laptop chargers to Ray Ban’s snatched from me, I never thought that St. Louis would be the place where my most expensive possession would be taken.
An auto theft occurs every 26.4 seconds in the United States. In St. Louis, approximately 3,000 cars are stolen per year. According to Neighborhood Scout, this crime contributes to making St. Louis safer than only 1% of the nation’s major cities.
On an evening in January of 2015, my nearly new silver Dodge Charger had been stolen in downtown St. Louis while I worked into the morning at a well-known nightclub. Whether it was someone trying to escape one of the coldest nights of the year or someone looking for a cheap thrill, my vehicle was taken from me.
Parked directly in the club’s entrance, the car was assumed to be under the valet’s close watch. Though I did not valet the vehicle that evening, I was parked in the area deemed “safe” by my management. After clocking out that evening, I swiftly walked to my car as I always did. As I clicked the keys desperately, I soon realized that I was standing in the empty parking spot that I had pulled my car into earlier that evening.
I ran back into the building to fortunately find two on-duty police officers stopping in for one last “check-up” as they often did. Their first response was, “We must have towed it. Let’s make a call and see.”
The officers quickly realized that my car was parked legally and had not been towed. My Dodge Charger containing a backpack full of textbooks, a MacBook Air, and newly installed stereo system had officially been reported as “missing”.
After an official police report had been made, I was left to bum a ride with a coworker and creep into the house, only to explain to my parents that my car had been stolen.
After an hour of the worst combination of scolding and disbelief, my parents contacted our insurance company. Given the early hour of the morning, Geico’s theft department was unfortunately closed, leaving my father with nothing to do but drive the streets of St. Louis, taking matters into his own hands. I’m told that he drove for hours around the seediest areas of St. Louis looking for any trace of my car. He returned home as the sun was coming up even more frustrated than when he left.
The following days were a whirlwind of phone calls and petty annoyances. In the week that followed, my family and I occupied every second of our free time by answering calls from the insurance company and the St. Louis Police Department. With our particular Geico policy, I was granted the use of a rental car to drive to class for 90 days. The articles in my car would be reimbursed up to a total of $200, which was a drop in the bucket considering that the items left in my car that evening were worth thousands.
The claims process was simple on the surface, yet felt shockingly like a blatant accusation. It became apparent that because the police saw no broken glass at the scene, it looked suspicious. After research, I learned that it is incredibly common for car owners who are behind on their payments to conveniently have their car “stolen” on purpose. This works in favor of the car owner if they have “gap” insurance. Gap insurance covers everything that you have paid so far on your vehicle in addition to everything that the car’s owner will owe in the future. After a process of slightly accusatorial interviews with the insurance company, I was told to simply wait for the car to be found or for the 90 days to expire. When one or the other came, I would hopefully be cleared for a new car.
A week passed, and an officer at the University City Police Department called with some startling news. My car had been involved in a chase and had been badly mangled by hitting a tree as the chase concluded. Because it was deemed unsalvageable, I was reimbursed the full value of the car by Geico and was free to put that money toward a new vehicle.
Several teenaged boys whom private investigators tell us “came from nothing” took my vehicle that winter night. Only one was charged criminally and has been placed on court supervision- a small price to pay for a daunting crime. While vehicle theft is something that does not happen here at McKendree, cars have been subject to being vandalized.
Ranadore Foggs, the Director of Public Safety here at Mckendree, reminds students and faculty to “play it safe when it comes to their motor vehicle.”
As for me, I’ll never forget to lock my car again.
Don’t Let This Happen to You….
- Always keep your vehicle locked and roll your windows up securely.
- When possible, park in a well-lit area or where your vehicle can be seen.
- All packages, valuables and bags should be taken out or kept in the trunk.
- Electronics should be removed from the vehicle or kept out of sight at all times.
- Money, jewelry or keys should never be left in your vehicle, especially overnight.
- Never leave your student ID or driver’s license in your vehicle.
- Always keep a spare key in your wallet or purse.
- Be sure to activate your alarm before departing your vehicle.
- Keep a copy of your license plate number or vehicle’s VIN in case of emergency.
- Immediately report any suspicious persons or activity near your vehicle.
From Ranodore Foggs, Director of Public Safety