Auto thieves tough to track down

Many dump cars quickly, prowl during wee hours

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance



Auto theft by the numbers

Auto theft in 2011: Clark County, 1,354 total cases; 146 outside of neighborhood associations

Northeast Hazel Dell: 107 cases

Rose Village: 64

Van Mall: 62

Bagley Downs: 60

North Image: 38

Airport Green, Bella Vista, Burton-Evergreen, Daybreak, Fishers Creek, Northfield, South Cliff and Village at Fishers Landing neighborhoods: 0

SOURCE: Clark County Sheriff’s Office

Darus Gieseman spent at least six years and $10,000 fixing up his Toyota truck. All he has to show for it is a brown patch of mud where it once stood and a few spare tires.

Gieseman’s truck was stolen from the back of his Northwest neighborhood home in west Vancouver earlier this month.

The theft was brazen. Gieseman’s lifted, 1986 4x4 truck was only a few feet from his bedroom window.

Unfortunately for Gieseman, he didn’t discover the theft until a few days after he thinks it happened, and he had no suspect information to share with police.

That’s pretty typical in auto theft cases, said Detective Tyler Chavers, with the Vancouver

Police Department’s Auto Theft Task Force.

Cars are usually stolen in the middle of the night by people who look for certain models, makes and years of cars that are easy to steal, Chavers said. Because it happens at night, most people report the theft hours later, he said. That means no suspect information.

A Vancouver police officer took a report from Gieseman and said he would be in touch if police found anything, Gieseman said.

Chavers said patrol officers won’t usually investigate reported auto thefts unless a victim has suspect information or police think they can find the vehicle.

According to data from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, there were 1,354 cases of auto theft reported in the county in 2011. The Northeast Hazel Dell and Rose Village neighborhoods lead the pack in auto thefts with 107 and 64 for the year, respectively. The Airport Green, Bella Vista, Burton-Evergreen, Daybreak, Fishers Creek, Northfield, South Cliff and Village at Fishers Landing neighborhoods were on the low end of things with no reported auto thefts in 2011, according to the data.

Gieseman’s neighborhood fell toward the low end, with 11 reported cases of auto theft in 2011.

Chavers said auto theft tends to happen in populated areas.

“Wherever there are people, there are criminals and wherever there are people, there are cars,” he said.

Most of the time, police will find stolen vehicles dumped on the side of the road or left in parking lots in shopping centers and apartment complexes, Chavers said.

“I call them drive and dumps,” he said adding thieves know they can’t drive the cars for long before the theft is reported.

That’s exactly what happened to Gieseman’s dad’s car several years ago. The 1987 Toyota 4Runner was stolen from the Giesemans’ driveway and found a few days later in Portland.

“It was like they just needed a drive, drove it and dropped it off,” Darus Giesesman said.

The second time the 4Runner was taken, it was repainted and driven for a month before a part of its frame was found in a rural part of the county.

That sort of thing is more rare, Chavers said.

Sometimes thieves, including chop-shop guys, will steal cars and sell the parts. But in most cases, thieves just need a ride.

Darus hopes his truck is found. He’d even be OK with it if there were a few things missing or some minor damage, he said.

“I don’t think I’ll see any of it,” he said. If nothing else, he hopes his story could inspire others to be more careful with their cars. He said he had a club for his truck, but it wasn’t in place when it was stolen.

Chavers said he has taken a few reports in his 15 years of service where people had clubs but didn’t have them in use when their vehicle was stolen. He’s only seen one case where a thief broke a window to get away with a club in place.

That isn’t an endorsement for the club, he said, but the best thing people can do to deter thieves is to place obstacles in their way.

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522;;