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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

Put the brakes on car thieves

Monday, July 1, 2002

Even in small towns, cars can get stolen

NEW HAMBURG -- When Dean Heuring of New Hamburg left for work in his 1998 Grand Jeep Cherokee Saturday morning, the last thing he thought he would need at the end of the day was a ride home.

Around 11 a.m. Saturday, Heuring discovered his vehicle was missing from his work parking lot on South Kingshighway in Cape Girardeau. After making a few phone calls to friends and family, in hopes they borrowed his vehicle, Heuring decided it was time to call the police.

Information such as Heuring's license plate number and vehicle identification number were given to the police. Heuring's checkbook was in the vehicle so he had to stop payment on his checking account. All he could do now was wait, and hope for the best.

Sgt. Keverne McCollum, supervisor of the Missouri Auto Theft/Motor Vehicle Bureau, said knowing your license plate number can help the officer out tremendously. "It may sound funny," she said, "but a lot of people don't know their license plate number. It can save the officer a lot of time. Knowing the vehicle make and year helps, too."

McCollum recommends vehicle owners to write their license plate number on their insurance card, which also includes the VIN. She said once someone finds out their vehicle is missing, they should notify the authorities immediately.

It's the responsibility of the vehicle owner to contact the bank and credit card company if a checkbook or credit cards are in the vehicle. The accounts should be closed out, she said.

Auto thefts like Heuring's occur every day throughout the world. In Missouri, a vehicle is stolen every 22 minutes, McCollum said. In 2001 in Missouri, a total of 27,845 vehicles were stolen, costing approximately $150 million. Of those stolen, 21,305, or 77 percent, were recovered, but "recovered" doesn't mean "perfect condition," McCollum added.

Heuring said losing his vehicle was tough, but the lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan soon put things in perspective after learning about the death of Darryl Kile. "I was upset about my Jeep," he said, "but when I learned about Darryl Kile's death, I remembered that there are more important things in life than material possessions."

Approximately 38 hours after his vehicle was stolen, Heuring received a phone call from the Cape Girardeau Police Department at 1:30 a.m. Monday. The officer he spoke with said they found his Jeep -- wrecked and in Frankfort, Ill., which is about 30 miles south of Chicago.

It wasn't until Heuring called the police department in Frankfort that he learned his Jeep was demolished. The driver of Heuring's vehicle rolled the Jeep after a 100-mph police chase. The thief had even attempted to write at least one of Heuring's checks, Heuring said.

"I'm talking to the officer in Frankfort and he's got my checkbook right in front of him, telling me what the last check I wrote was. It's just strange. Very strange," Heuring said, shaking his head.

However, Heuring said he received unexpected comfort from the Frankfort police. "I was so relieved after talking to the Frankfort police," he said. "The gentlemen in Frankfort were so helpful, and they took time to explain everything that happened. After talking to them, I basically knew where I stood and what I needed to do next."

On Monday, Heuring opened a new checking account and visited with his insurance agent. Heuring admits he could have taken preventative measures, such as locking his vehicle doors and not leaving his checkbook in his vehicle, and insists that he will now.

Even though 82 percent of the auto thefts in 2001 occurred in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, McCollum said small town residents should also take precautions to protect their vehicles. "I would say the small towns are more likely to leave their doors unlocked," she said. "Everybody knows everybody. It's community-oriented, and more people probably trust each other."

Doors should always be locked, never leave your keys in your vehicle and try to park in a well-lit area, McCollum advised. Heuring had to learn the hard way, but everyone else doesn't.

If there's one good thing that can come from Heuring's misfortune it's that others in the area see that bad things can happen to small town people.

Heuring warned: "Don't think that it can't happen to you, because it can."