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 vehicles 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 them have been recovered.
Although police officers couldn't say whether any of the thefts are 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 thieves in Howard but 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 often is found in another county. Five people from Baltimore have been charged since Friday with stealing cars in Howard.
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. Ten years ago, owners had a 75 percent chance of recovering their cars, but today the likelihood has dropped to 33 percent, he said.
"Cars are stolen, then exported out of Baltimore or Miami through illegal export, never to be seen again," Hazelbaker said.
He said the increase in the number of professional car thieves renders such anti-theft devices as the Club and most car alarms useless. Late-model cars equipped with immobilizing devices that disable the car after a theft attempt are the most effective anti-theft device.
"Alarms with lights flashing, horns or a voice saying, 'Stand back from the car,' do little more than annoy your neighbors," he said. "A Club might work for amateurs, but if someone is contracted to steal a BMW, they'll take it."
Steppe and Hazelbaker said most cars are stolen from parking lots, particularly at shopping malls, park-and-ride lots and apartment complexes, because thieves look less suspicious there and owners are away for hours or even days at a time.
"People won't draw as much attention to themselves if they're looking in cars in a parking lot," Steppe said. "And a lot of people are afraid to call when they see someone suspicious."
Austin said living with one car will become more difficult when Kim starts her senior year at Wilde Lake High School on Monday.
"My car is in the shop, so we have three drivers with one car," Austin said. "It's a nuisance, but I hope it turns up."
Police provided information about some of the vehicles stolen earlier this week:
A blue 1993 Plymouth Voyager with Maryland tags ABH72G was taken late Monday or early Tuesday from the 3400 block of Orange Grove Court in Ellicott City.
A black 1988 GMC Jimmy with Maryland tags 860348M was taken Tuesday evening from the 7100 block of Carved Stone in Columbia's Long Reach village.
A silver 1990 Buick Le Sabre with Maryland tags 889AXK was stolen between early Monday and early Tuesday from a home at Leaftreader Way and Ring Dove Lane in Town Center.
A blue 1993 Subaru Impreza with Maryland tags 710AYX was stolen late Monday or early Tuesday from the 5500 block of Vantage Point Road in Town Center.
A blue 1995 Chrysler Town and Country with Maryland tags 779154M was stolen Tuesday afternoon from the 10300 block of Little Patuxent Parkway in Town Center.
A white 1993 Honda Accord with Maryland tags TCR059 was taken Tuesday night from the 10200 block of Wincopin Circle in Town Center.
Reports on the other thefts were not available. In addition, police said someone tried to take a 1992 Dodge Shadow at Little Patuxent Parkway and Wincopin Circle in Town Center early Monday. Vass, Smith and Handy were charged with attempted theft in that case.
Pub Date: 8/22/96