Car theft in Clearwater, highest in years

Police say a majority of cars stolen are running, or keys are left inside

Clearwater car thefts are up.

CLEARWATER, FL (WFLA) – Clearwater police say car thieves steal a car.  They then go on a joyride, and then dump the car or crash into innocent victims.  It’s a trend Clearwater Police Officers are seeing all too often.  Late Monday night officers responded to the intersection of Northeast Coachman and Belcher Roads where a stolen Toyota Prius crashed into a minivan.  The driver of the stolen car fled, leaving his injured teenage passenger in the overturned car.

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Margaret Hamilton and her daughter, Amanda were glad they had hours of practicing driving when the accident occurred.

16-year old Amanda Hamilton was at the wheel of the minivan on a dark drive with her mother Margaret. “Just driving along, got the green light, next thing you know out of the corner of my eye, I see a car coming,”  Said Amanda, “Noticing it doesn’t slow down, next thing I know we’re in an accident with air bags in our faces.”

Amanda has her learner’s permit, and frequently drives her mother around at night for practice.  Margaret Hamilton believes those repeated trips paid off.  “If she had not had as many practice hours as she had, and this is what keeps going through my head,”  Said Margaret, “It could’ve been worse.”

Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter says auto theft in the city is up significantly.  It’s a statistic he’s not proud of.  “133% increase in auto theft in the month of July,”  said Slaughter.  “As an agency it will be difficult to recover from that number.  We will record a significant increase in auto theft this year that we won’t be able to reduce.”

Slaughter says a majority of auto thefts in the city occur because people leave their keys in the car, or leave the car running when they make a delivery or run into a store.  He believes thefts would decrease if people would simply lock their doors and make sure their keys are not in the vehicle.  “As has been the case in several of these incidents, a reckless joyride throughout the city of Clearwater that ultimately ends in a crash and it’s just a matter of time before one of these crashes results in someone getting seriously, seriously hurt.”

In Monday’s case, a Chinese take out delivery driver was taking food to a customer when the thieves struck.  He’d left the Prius running as he made his delivery.  Margaret Hamilton says drivers need to realize car thieves are looking for those cars left running or those with keys left inside. “For the people that I understand that are leaving keys in cars, letting the cars run, dart in, throw the keys on the mat or under their sun visors,”  Warned Hamilton,  “when you do that it’s not whether you’re worried about your car being stolen, but what will be done with that car.”

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