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Armstrong County sees rash of catalytic converter thefts

BRIGID BEATTY I LEADER TIMES Commuter lots, like the Park-n-Ride lot which straddles Hill Street in Manor, have been targeted in recent weeks by thieves stealing catalytic converters from parked vehicles.

Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Motorists beware — especially those who drive high-clearance vehicles like SUVs or trucks and who park in commuter lots.

Those lots have been targeted in recent weeks by thieves stealing catalytic converters from parked vehicles, said police.

On Monday, Tim Shaffer of Ford City returned to the East Franklin Park-n-Ride where he had left his mom's truck and knew something was wrong as soon as he started the engine.

The sound from the exhaust was deafening.

Kim Shaffer said she got a call from her son as soon as he heard how loud the vehicle sounded — which wasn't the way it sounded when he left it in the lot that morning. The next day the Shaffers brought the truck to Flynn's Tire & Auto Service in West Kittanning.

There were saw marks underneath the truck where the catalytic converter was cut away, said Kim Shaffer.

The crime had been committed in broad daylight, she said.

“It cost me more than $800 to replace,” she said. “I'm so angry about it. If I knew it was going on, I wouldn't have had him park there.”

She reported the incident to the East Franklin Township police department.

“We've had three or four catalytic converters cut off up there,” said Sgt. William Evans.

He said one was sawed off a truck a few weeks ago while the driver took a moment to go into a local business. It only took a few minutes but it was enough time for the theft to occur.

A vehicle's catalytic converter acts as a filter and is connected to the exhaust system to reduce pollution-causing emissions.

Thieves are stealing them for their platinum content, said Evans.

“Anything high off the ground seems to be targeted,” he said.

Buyers of scrap metal pay money for used catalytic converters.

But because of the high incidence of crime associated with that particular vehicle part, scrap dealers like Greco PJ Sons of Kittanning on Tarrtown Road, make an effort to discourage any shady dealings.

“We do get IDs from people now because we know it's a problem,” said employee Tracy Blair. “It's been an ugly thing for a while.”

Evans said he doesn't believe thieves are taking their stolen goods to local salvage yards where employees make copies of IDs and keep track of transactions.

Instead, criminals are going to less-reputable places outside of the county to make their sale, he said.

At least a dozen vehicles at the Park-n-Ride lot in Manor have been targeted, said Evans.

Similar incidents have occurred at the commuter lot in Slate Lick, South Buffalo, where a silver Dodge Durango was spotted more than a month ago, believed to be connected with thefts there, said Evans.

He said the high incident rate at Manor might have something to do with its more secluded location and lighter traffic flow.

The Park-n-Ride commuter lots are owned by PennDOT.

According to Deborah Casadei, public information and safety press officer, there are no plans to install security cameras in the lots.

A quick search on the Internet offers suggestions on how to thwart thefts:

Protective coverings can be installed over a vehicle's catalytic converter making it more difficult for a thief to get at, and etching the vehicle's VIN number on the catalytic converter can help police track the part if it does get stolen.

But no matter what precautions motorists take, it doesn't appear as if thefts are going to decrease any time soon.

“Unfortunately with the economy, it's going to get worse,” said Evans.

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