Columbia Town Center resident Marge Austin didn't think her turquoise 1993 Subaru Impreza was terribly popular until her daughter Kim discovered it missing Tuesday morning.
"I was aware that [auto theft] seems to be the most popular crime, but ours wasn't a particularly hot car," said Austin, a real estate agent for Long & Foster.
But lots of cars were hot in Howard County from Monday night through Wednesday morning. Austin's was one of 16 cars reported stolen from about 11 p.m. Monday to about 8: 30 a.m. Wednesday -- an unusually high average of one every two hours or so. Four of the cars have been recovered.
Although police officers couldn't say whether any of the thefts were related, seven occurred in Town Center, which has long been favored by car thieves traveling into Columbia on highways from Baltimore.
The number of car thefts in such a short period is unusual, said Cpl. Paul Steppe and is a reminder to residents who may have become complacent. Owners of two of the stolen cars left keys in them.
He also said many people leave their car doors unlocked or their engines running at gas stations or convenience stores while they make a quick purchase. Last summer, Howard County had a rash of such thefts, and officers began a safety campaign in May to warn residents to be careful.
"People have gotten lazy and forgotten basics," Steppe said. "We have to keep the county safe by not making mistakes that make us vulnerable."
Overall, car thefts are down in the county. From Jan. 1 to June 30, 230 cars were reported stolen, down from 490 during the same period in 1995 and 566 during that time in 1994.
Steppe said Hondas and sport utility vehicles are most popular among Howard car thieves but said no car is safe from theft. Three of the cars stolen this week were Subarus.
Steppe said many of the car thieves drive to Howard County in a stolen car, dump it and steal another from a Howard resident, which then is often found in another county. Five people from Baltimore have been charged since Friday with stealing cars in Howard County.
Two Baltimore residents, ages 16 and 19, were charged Friday with stealing two cars and trying to steal three others on Sterrett Place and Vantage Point Road in Town Center.
Ronnie Linwood Harris, 19, of the 1400 block of Lafayette St. was charged with auto theft and related charges. He was being held yesterday at the Howard County Detention Center in lieu of $21,000 bond. The name of the youth was not released because of his age. He was released into the custody of his parents.
Three other Baltimore men were charged Monday with stealing a 1992 Dodge Shadow. Rodney Kelvin Vass Jr., 20, of the 2400 block of Nevada St.; Raymond Angelo Smith Jr., 18, of the 7100 block of Pine Crest Road; and Ridgely Rodney Handy, 18, of the 4600 block of Manordene Road were charged with theft. Vass was being held in lieu of $5,000 bond, Handy was being held in lieu of $2,500 bond and Smith was released, according to the county detention center.
Car theft nationally has changed from youths joy riding for a few hours to professionals contracted to steal certain types of cars, said Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute in Arlington, Va.
He said fewer cars are being stolen but the chances of recovering them have decreased.
Pub Date: 8/22/96