‘I was shocked:’ Police warn to stay vigilant as vehicle thefts in Tri-Cities increase

KENNEWICK, Wash. — As law enforcement officials see an uptick in car thefts, Kennewick police are warning you to stay vigilant.

According to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), “vehicle thefts are up 99% in March 2022 compared with March of the previous year. Overall, auto thefts are up 88% year-to-date compared with the same timeframe from last year.”

“The data shows that in July 2021, about 2200 vehicle thefts were reported statewide. In March 2022, vehicle theft reports increased to about 4200, which is a 93% increase from July 2021,” a news release said. “The City of Kennewick has seen the same trend with a significant increase in vehicle thefts. In March 2021, there were 9 and in March 2022, 84 were reported. On a year-by-year comparison, January-March 2021 showed 41 thefts versus the same month range in 2022 which showed 210 vehicle thefts; a 412% increase. Statistics show that during July 2021 through March 2022 time period that WASPC reported on, there was a 191% increase of vehicle thefts in the City of Kennewick.”

A total of 26,520 vehicles were reported stolen out of Washington state in 2020. That increased to 31,032 auto thefts in 2021. Now, WASPC estimates suggest the state will end with more than 50,000 stolen vehicles by the end of the year.

REPORT: Washington auto thefts spiked 93% since reform laws passed

One of those recent victims is William Dituri, an ICU RN at Lourdes Medical Center in Pasco.

Dituri was finishing up a shift around 7:30 p.m. on April 12 when he headed out to the employee parking lot. But when he got there, Dituri said his car couldn’t be found.

That’s when he headed back inside to view the hospital’s security footage.

“A guy with a gray sweatshirt, a cap, middle-aged man got into my vehicle and just drove off with it,” Dituri said. “It’s frustrating to see that you just come into the hospital parking lot and just steal people’s cars.”

Dituri said he realized he had left the doors open, a costly mistake as thousands of dollars worth of computers and personal equipment were stolen. After filing a police report, he headed home.

READ: Pasco officials urge drivers to install preventative safety measures as car thefts rise

Later on, Dituri said he found out his vehicle had been involved in a hit-and-run incident in Kennewick that evening.

“I was upset, frustrated, and angry,” Dituri said.

When he finally got his vehicle back from a towing site, he found it trashed, with drug paraphernalia and a burner phone in the front of the car.

“[It] looked like fentanyl, or some type of drug in the passenger seat. The whole front bumper was destroyed. The side panel had some scratches and dents,” Dituri said. “They took my driver’s plates off and they covered it with Alvarez Auto Sales Kennewick.”

Sarah Perkins, another Tri-Cities resident, suffered a similar situation last Sunday when she and a friend went hiking on Candy Mountain.

Perkins said they were gone for less than an hour but when they returned to the trail’s parking lot, her car was missing.

“I started looking for the vehicle because I knew we’d parked there,” Perkins said. “It was like my vehicle’s gone.”

Police found her vehicle a few miles down the road a couple of days later but all of her belongings had been stolen.

“I had a backpack full of fishing lures, some camping gear, a sewing machine, and a record player,” Perkins said.

The suspect(s) had also taken the catalytic converter out from underneath the car.

READ: Police see a rise in catalytic converter thefts

Perkins said the whole experience was “shocking” as she never believed this would happen to her.

“It’s a good thing to get awareness out that this is a problem,” Perkins said.

Dituri agreed, adding that it “opens your eyes.”

“There are some bad people out there and you just gotta do what you can to protect yourself, your family, and your loved ones,” Dituri said.

The Kennewick Police Department posted these tips on Facebook to help keep your vehicle safe:

* Lock your car doors and keep your windows rolled up.
* Remove vehicle keys from the vehicle. Do not let your vehicle warm-up unattended.
* Park in well-lit areas.
* If you have a garage, use it to park your vehicle.
* Install an audible alarm system.
* Do not leave valuables in your vehicle, including firearms.
* Be situationally aware of what is going on in your neighborhood and report suspicious activity to the police at the moment that it is occurring.

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