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'It basically just gets up and walks away from you': Louisville car owners detail how their cars were stolen

From July 24 to Aug. 21, Louisville Metro Police's First Division saw 47 reported car thefts, the second highest total in the metro.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — On average, a car has been stolen in Louisville every 2.5 hours in 2022.

These crimes usually lack evidence, and Louisville Metro Police admits it is too swamped to keep in touch with every victim of property crime.

That leaves many people at home, looking at their empty driveways.

"It basically just gets up and walks away from you," Trenton Cox said, who had his diesel truck stolen from his driveway in the early morning of Aug. 4.

Cox lives south of the Outer Loop, on the edge of Jefferson County. He got the thieves on camera, but it's impossible to make out any of their facial features.

"As much money as I had put into the truck, and the tools I had in it...it was just real frustrating," Cox said.

Cox put in an initial call to LMPD the day of the theft and hasn't heard back since.

Auto thefts get funneled to the detectives in each division of LMPD. If someone were to be killed in a carjacking, that would go to the homicide unit.

It's common for detectives in LMPD's busiest divisions to be juggling up to 70 cases at a time; covering all things from robbery with a weapon, to business break-ins, shots fired incidents and more.

“We try to call everyone, but with that kind of caseload, it’s not always feasible for us to call every single victim," Sgt. Detective Cam Chenault said.

From July 24 to Aug. 21, the First Division saw 47 reported car thefts, the second highest total in the metro.

Credit: WHAS11
A map of reported car thefts by district, for the period of July 24 - Aug. 21.

From Jan. 1 to Aug. 21, there have been 2,302 car thefts in the city. A total of 80 people have been arrested specifically for the crime.

Another 120 people have been arrested for "possession of stolen property" totaling anywhere between $1,000 to $10,000, and $10,000 or more. Chenault said that charge is used when they catch someone driving a stolen car, but don't have evidence of the actual theft.

LMPD could not verify all 120 arrests were for stolen cars, but said it is "almost always" the case.

Since there have been 120 arrests for stolen property and 80 arrests for car theft, that means about 8.7% of the 2,302 car thefts have ended in an arrest.

"The case-load is high, but I wouldn't say that we don't investigate. It's just the level of vigor that we investigate might change," Chenault said.

Anyone looking for help, or even people to vent to, should check out groups like the Stolen!! Louisville Facebook group.

That's what John Mata did, and it worked like a charm.

“It was less than 24 hours that we put the post on and then it was discovered," he said.  

Mata advertised a custom sticker on the back of his gray 95 Ford Ranger "Reba" that was stolen from his back alley. A stranger called him the next day after recognizing it.

"He called me and he said, 'I know it's yours by the sticker,'" Mata said. 

The mystery man, who John has been unable to contact again for a "thank you," then flagged down an LMPD officer on break, and an arrest was made.

People quite often will find their cars in another part of town days after they're stolen. That's what happened to a DoorDash driver WHAS11 talked to in April.

Others feel they have zero time to wait.

"When stuff like that happens, you gotta go with your instinct," Bruce Sweeney said, who had his car stolen in front of Jefferson Square Park on Aug. 22.

Sweeney was lifelong friends with activist Chris Wells, who died Aug. 21. To mourn Chris, he went to Jefferson Square Park Monday morning to play music and be alone with his thoughts. 

He left his keys in his car and someone slid into his car and drove off. Bruce ran after the person and then flagged down a driver of a pickup truck to go after his gray Mitsubishi.

"I never got to say thank you. He was on his way to work," Sweeney said. "I appreciate it."

Sweeney was soon flanked by two LMPD squad cars as they drove through downtown looking for the car.

They lost it, but Sweeney remembered he had a GPS tracker in his car, alerted his friend who was nearby the location, and an arrest was finally made.

While city officials encourage the Facebook groups and online sleuthing, they do not want people to risk their own safety to get their cars back.

“We see a lot where folks get really involved. Try to block the car in, try to get the suspects and detain them. Would never encourage anyone to do that," District 13 Metro Councilmember Mark Fox said, who previously served 35 years in LMPD.

There are a number of things people can do to make themselves harder targets for car thieves including:

  • Don't leave your car running unattended
  • Don't leave your keys in your car
  • Hid valuables in your car before leaving
  • Park in well-lit areas or by security cameras
  • Consider investing in a wheel lock or GPS tracker

LMPD also suggested this link with helpful tips.

Police and city officials said they will arrest more car thieves once staffing rises in LMPD. The department is currently about 300 officers short.

 Chenault said any staffing they can get will help.

"If I get two more detectives today, would they go to aggravated assaults? Absolutely. But, would that free up my other 10 detectives to work on property crimes? Absolutely," Chenault said.

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