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Car that Smithton fire chief saved for 30 years stripped down by thieves

Mary Pickels
| Monday, June 8, 2015, 11:12 p.m.
Joel Ribniscky, of Smithton, stands in his driveway, on Monday, June 8, 2015, where the doors and seats were stolen from his 1968 Pontiac Firebird, which was parked next to his home early Saturday morning.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Joel Ribniscky, of Smithton, stands in his driveway, on Monday, June 8, 2015, where the doors and seats were stolen from his 1968 Pontiac Firebird, which was parked next to his home early Saturday morning.
Joel Ribniscky, of Smithton, stands in his driveway, on Monday, June 8, 2015, where the doors and seats were stolen from his 1968 Pontiac Firebird, which was parked next to his home early Saturday morning.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Joel Ribniscky, of Smithton, stands in his driveway, on Monday, June 8, 2015, where the doors and seats were stolen from his 1968 Pontiac Firebird, which was parked next to his home early Saturday morning.

When he was a teenager, Joel Ribniscky saved the money he made pumping gas at a service station and bought a Pontiac Firebird.

“It was my first Firebird. I probably paid $400 for it and installed a transmission,” he said Monday.

For the past 30 years, he has put away money, a little at a time, to buy another car like that one. Six weeks ago, he drove home a cream-colored 1968 Firebird.

Ribniscky, 58, said he paid a Beaver County seller $12,000 for the car.

“It rode real nice,” he said. “I'd like to make it a show car.”

But sometime Friday morning, those plans got derailed. The car's two doors and new black seats were stripped while it was parked under a carport at his home in rural South Huntingdon.

“I'm still in shock. I've got half a car,” Ribniscky said.

The longtime fire chief at Smithton Volunteer Fire Department, Ribniscky said he returned home from a fire call about 1 a.m. Friday. At 6:30 a.m., he got up for work at his business, Andy's Tire and Auto Center in Smithton, and found the car stripped.

“I didn't hear a darn thing. I sleep 60 feet away,” he said. “We've lived here 32 years and never had a problem.”

The front of the car was visible from his home, Ribniscky said. Whoever came on to his property had to cross a bridge over a creek. And it would have taken the thief some time to push the car out from the carport and unbolt the doors, he said.

“It blows my mind. ... It looks like a professional job, or somebody who knows a lot about cars,” he said.

Ribniscky said he reported the robbery to Belle Vernon state police Friday afternoon. A press release wasn't available Monday.

Meanwhile, his wife, Kathy Ribniscky, took to Facebook, asking friends for help.

“You all know how hard he works and how much he does for people and our community,” she wrote. “He had been saving for almost 30 years to buy his ‘dream' car. ... He's just devastated by this and can't believe anyone would do that to him.”

The couple hopes someone saw or heard something about the robbery.

“When I first found out, I wanted to hurt them (robbers) bad,” Joel Ribniscky said. “Now, I would buy (the doors) back. They were original to that car. Replacement parts will never be the same.”

Gary Gordan is president of the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the Pontiac Oakland International Club, formed in 1972 to promote interest in Pontiac, Oakland and GMC vehicles, their history, restoration and preservation.

“It's a popular car,” he said of the 1968 Firebird.

He said the theft of car doors and seats sounded “kind of unusual.”

Suppliers might be able to find replacement parts, or Ribniscky might luck out by posting what he needs on websites and trying to locate something similar, he said.

Gordan said he's heard of cases where “somebody knows somebody who knows somebody” looking for specific car parts.

“They might be asked, ‘What color do you want?' and then go out and steal it,” Gordan said.

Ribniscky hadn't yet insured the car and hopes the loss will be covered under his homeowner's insurance.

“It was not road worthy,” he said. “It had a dealer plate.”

He said he's looked around a bit for replacement parts. “I found a pair of front seats for $1,800. I couldn't find back seats,” he said.

He estimated that new door and seat replacements could cost $6,000 — half the price of the car.

The loss is heartbreaking, Ribniscky said.

“It's not a show quality car — yet. ... I go to car shows religiously and dreamed one day I'd have my Firebird there. It's my favorite car in the world,” he said.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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