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Car owners suffer as Las Vegas area sees rising vehicle thefts

Updated January 15, 2023 - 11:05 am

Just after midnight on New Year’s Day, Kimberlyn Mejia and about 20 relatives, together for the holiday, walked onto the lawn of her parents’ Las Vegas home to see if they could view the fireworks on the Strip.

Parked as usual by the curb nearby was her family’s white 2011 Ford Econoline van, hitched to their black 2018 Utility Tool cargo trailer. Little did the family know the shock they were in for in a matter of minutes.

Mejia’s family soon became another victim of vehicle theft, a crime that increased by nearly 19 percent in the Metropolitan Police Department’s jurisdiction last year over 2021 and surged by 32 percent in North Las Vegas.

‘Crazy this was right in front of our home’

At 1:36 a.m. Jan. 1, as Mejia and her relatives partied inside, a neighbor’s surveillance video captured images of a white pickup truck driving up, someone getting out, breaking into the van, starting it and driving off pulling the cargo trailer behind, all within two minutes.

Moments later, “we were just about to go to bed when my dad decided to take one last look, and that’s when the van and trailer were gone from the front,” said Mejia, who is 23.

“It’s crazy that this was right in front of our home, right outside,” she said. “They assumed we were distracted and we were celebrating, and obviously we were.”

Mejia posted about her family’s misfortune on the Southern Nevada Stolen Cars public group on Facebook, where many other Las Vegas area victims upload photos of their missing motor vehicles and ask users if they’ve seen them anywhere.

North Las Vegas sees big jump in thefts

In line with a national trend, vehicle thefts in Las Vegas are rising again, although the rate of increase is somewhat less than it was in 2021 when thefts rose by 22 percent, according to Las Vegas police.

With the figures in for 2022 as of Dec. 31, vehicles reported stolen in Las Vegas totaled 10,675, an 18.6 percent bump from 9,002 for 2021, police said. Over most of the last two months of 2022, the thefts had ebbed slightly, falling 2.3 percent from Nov. 6 to Dec. 31.

The phenomenon was worse in North Las Vegas. Vehicle thefts within the city limits in 2022, as of the last week of December, hit 1,657, a sharp climb of 32.2 percent from that period in 2021, public information officer Alexander Cuevas said.

“As you likely know, this issue is on the rise nationally,” Cuevas wrote in an email.

The city of Henderson did not supply figures on vehicles stolen there.

The thefts across the United States for most of 2022 grew to near-record heights. The National Insurance Crime Bureau, an Illinois-based nonprofit association that studies crime and fraud in the insurance industry, said 745,000 vehicles were reported stolen during the first nine months of 2022, a growth of 24 percent over the same months of 2019.

The estimated cost to victims was $6.6 billion, the bureau reported.

Rise in used car values a factor

Should the upswing continue, the sum could reach 1 million vehicles nationally by the end of 2022, more than 100,000 higher than pre-pandemic highs. For all of 2021, 932,329 vehicles were reported stolen, up 17 percent from 2019, the bureau said.

One key factor in the current expansion of thefts is the historically high prices of used cars in general, making them more lucrative for thieves to sell as stolen property, according to David Glawe, the bureau’s president and chief executive.

Used car values have gone up almost 35 percent in the last two years amid supply chain issues and inflation, Glawe said.

“Stolen cars can be shipped overseas and resold or broken down for valuable used car parts here in the U.S,” he said.

Worst cities for auto theft

The worst city for vehicle thievery in 2021 was Bakersfield, California, with metropolitan Denver in second place, the bureau said.

For Las Vegas, the bureau analyzed the Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise Metropolitan statistical area. By that measure, Las Vegas was fairly low on the national list of vehicle thefts in 2021, landing in 27th place with a rate of 475 thefts per 100,000 residents.

But that meant a jump in thefts from the previous two years — the metro area ranked 30th in 2019 and 40th in 2020.

Colorado was the state with the highest rate of the thefts, 661 per 100,000 people.

Nevada stood at eighth in the country, with 426 thefts per 100,000 residents.

The most common vehicle models stolen nationally in 2021 — with the model year most often stolen shown in parentheses — were the Chevrolet full-sized pickup (2004), Ford full-sized pickup (2006), the Honda Civic (2000), Honda Accord (1997) and Toyota Camry (2007).

The bureau said thieves like to target pickups and mid-sized sedans because those are among the most popular with buyers and available to steal.

For decades, the Ford F-series pickup has been one of the best-selling vehicles in the United States.

‘I couldn’t find it’

The 2000 Honda Civic has special meaning for Joshua Ancaya, a 21-year-old welder whose car of that make and year was stolen from where he parked it at his apartment complex in North Las Vegas sometime between 2 p.m. Jan. 2 and 5:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“I was on my way to work, and I couldn’t find it,” Ancaya said. “I feel like that shouldn’t happen. I’ll have to figure it out.”

For now, his girlfriend is driving him to his job. A police detective told him to call back within 10 days if he had not heard from the department.

This was the second time his 2000 Civic had been stolen, he said. About two years ago, he found it a couple of blocks away from his home, a wheel lock likely foiling the would-be thief. But this time, a thief beat his wheel lock, he said.

“You can’t really do anything about it,” he said.

Mejia said that she, her parents and brother have had trouble sleeping since the crime. The van is worth about $12,000 and trailer $2,500. To add to the bad luck, they had filled the cargo container with furniture to make room in the house for their relatives to spend New Year’s, making it a loss of about $20,000.

Her family is hoping that police can use her neighbor’s surveillance video to read the license plate number of the white truck that dropped off the alleged thief, she said.

“We just kept thinking, it took them just two minutes,” she said. “Will they steal our other cars? Can they break into our house?”

Contact Jeff Burbank at jburbank@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0382. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on Twitter.

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