Police: Brazen thief taking wheels off parked cars in Hempfield shopping plaza
With the speed of a NASCAR pit crew and the stealth of an expert safe cracker, a thief is stripping tires and wheels off cars parked at a Hempfield shopping center.
Phil Riggle, owner of Alwine Curry Towing Co., also in Hempfield, said his tow truck operators have been called three times in the past week to the parking lot at Greengate Centre to assist motorists who have returned after shopping to find their cars propped up on wood blocks and one or two tires and the metal rims and wheels removed.
Trooper Steve Limani of the state police confirmed that two such thefts were reported Monday in the vicinity of Panera Bread in the same plaza. No incident reports were immediately available, but Limani said one victim was an employee of the store.
“It’s a first for me. Now, I’ve seen cars parked for a time along the side of the road for a few days and someone will report having an entire wheel stolen, but never someone on a quick shopping trip finding a wheel gone,” Limani said.
Riggle said the thief or thieves appear to be targeting newer car models.
“I’ve never seen a rash of thefts like this. They are doing it in broad daylight, too, so they are pretty bold,” Riggle said. “I’ve responded to calls for new Hyundais and Kias.”
Riggle said that such thefts would not take much time. All thieves need is a portable torque wrench to remove lug nuts and the wheels can be thrown in a car or truck.
“We can change a tire in less than five minutes, so it can be done pretty quick with the right tools,” Riggle said.
Riggle said that most of the cases he’s responded to the victims have been parked “a distance away from the store” or between cars.
Riggle estimated a wheel or tire on the black market could fetch about $50. To replace a wheel or tire from a dealership, Riggle estimated the motorist’s bill much higher.
“I’d say it’s going to cost at least $500 per wheel, which unfortunately is about the same cost as many motorists’ deductible,” he said.
Limani noted that many newer cars are equipped with security lug nuts where one lug nut is different from the others, but the thief doesn’t seem bothered.
“I’d recommend people park in higher traffic areas where there are a number of people around. And don’t hesitate report something to state police,” Riggle said.
“People should report suspicious activity to police right away.” he said.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, email@example.com or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.