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Thieves takes more than the family car
By WES PLATT
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 27, 2000
Those three words from my wife greeted me during my first waking moments a week ago today.
I thought it was a joke. So did she, at first. Me and my wacky sense of humor. Did I park her car around the block or something? Ha. Ha. She didn't want to be late for work.
Puzzled, I looked outside and saw the big empty space in the driveway of our Lake Padgett home where the Honda Accord should have been.
"Where's your car?" I asked. Then, through the clearing morning fog of grogginess, I realized: "Someone stole your car!"
Less than 15 minutes later, we sat in our living room with a Pasco County sheriff's deputy, reporting our first property crime since moving to Land O'Lakes more than five years ago.
During all that time, no one had done so much as steal a plant off our back patio. That brought a sense of security that reinforced our reasons for wanting to live here. Land O'Lakes felt safer than Tampa. It felt far removed from crime.
Now, someone had made off with our car -- and with that innocent sense that we existed in a secure little bubble of civilization.
The deputy asked all the questions he had to ask: Did we know anyone who would want to take the car? No. Had we been current on our car payments? Yes. When was the last time we saw the car? The night before, after going for a walk around our safe, secure neighborhood.
We gave him the license plate number and the vehicle identification number. He told us the car might have been stolen by kids who wanted to go joyriding or, because it was a Honda, it might have been taken by someone wanting to make cash from a chop shop.
In other words, we'll look for it, but don't hold your breath.
Despite the jarring nature of the theft, my wife and I still felt like laughing. The first two months of the new century had yielded illnesses for both of us, a broken arm for her, a broken-down car for me (a Ford Tempo, which I probably couldn't pay a car thief to take), and a Valentine's Day deluge of our house by a leaking toilet reservoir.
We had become a statistic. Last year, 450 cars were stolen in Pasco County, according to the Florida Deparment of Law Enforcement. That was down from 492 the year before.
Sometimes they're recovered. Sometimes not.
This time, we got lucky.
Tampa police found our car abandoned in downtown Tampa. The driver's side door lock had been jimmied. The ignition was ruined. The idiots had rammed the front right side of the car into a pole or something. Everything in the glove compartment had been scattered throughout the car. Investigators dusted for fingerprints, smudging the upholstery.
So, it wasn't a chop shop job. Probably kids out joyriding.
The car's with a mechanic now, and should be back on the street in a week or so. Insurance will cover the cost of repairs. Nothing can buy back what was lost.
I'm certainly looking forward to any arrests and subsequent prosecution. I'd like to look the thieves in the eye and ask them how they enjoyed their little ride at our expense. I wonder if they had a good time? If they're proud of their accomplishment? Did they brag about it later?
And are their parents proud too?
No one stole our car when we lived in more crime-prone Tampa. All the time I was growing up in Orlando, we never even had a burglar. I've been to New York City a few times, but never got mugged.
Now, in the quiet little suburb where big city things like this aren't supposed to happen, we feel less secure.
We look at kids with suspicion. We worry about having nice things. We're investing in the sort of things we used to joke about as being for the paranoid -- bright security lights, alarm systems.
Land O'Lakes just doesn't feel the same anymore.
- Wes Platt is the bureau chief for the east edition of the Pasco Times. He can be reached at (813) 226-3454 Send letters c/o Pasco Times, 24038 State Road 54, Lutz, FL 33549. Send email to email@example.com. Send faxes to (813) 226-3455.
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