Catalytic converter stealing spree

In a single day, catalytic converters were stripped from no fewer than 10 vehicles from Hobe Sound to Port St. Lucie, with the owners in many cases discovering the incidents after cranking up their vehicles, according to recently released law enforcement reports and officials.

Further, police in Jupiter also are said to have taken two similar reports for thefts that happened on the same day — June 17.

Four of the five vehicles hit in Port St. Lucie were Toyota 4-Runners, and all were parked along or near the U.S. 1 corridor. In Martin County, several of the vehicles were parked at the Treasure Coast Square mall in Jensen Beach. At least one of the vehicles involved in the Martin sheriff's cases and at least one in the Jupiter police cases were Toyota 4-Runners.

Martin County Sheriff's officials suspect a reciprocating saw may have been used in stealing the converters, sheriff's spokeswoman Rhonda Irons said. Irons said her agency investigated a series of similar thefts several months ago.

According to Port St. Lucie police records, catalytic converters, situated between the engine and muffler, contain small amounts of platinum, rhodium and palladium.

"It's blatant," said Officer Tom Nichols, Port St. Lucie police spokesman. "These thieves are very aggressive, stealing from vehicles in commercial parking lots at times when people are coming and going."

One of the cases in Nichols' jurisdiction apparently happened when a woman went to have dinner at the China Garden Buffet in the 10000 block of South U.S. 1, a report states. The woman said she arrived about 6:45 p.m. and went to her 2000 Toyota 4-Runner about 8:30 p.m.

"When she started the vehicle it was making loud exhaust noise and she thought the muffler had gone out," a report states.

The catalytic converter theft was discovered three days later when the woman's son took the vehicle for repair.

A 33-year-old woman who said she parked her 2003 Chevrolet van under a tree at the Treasure Coast Square mall appeared to have had a similar experience. She parked her vehicle about 6:45 a.m. When she returned about 12 hours later from a business trip in Palm Beach County, she started the van and noticed it "made a very loud noise while running," a report states.

She looked under her vehicle and noticed the "muffler/converter" had been cut off.

Irons said some of the vehicles at the Treasure Coast Square mall were in outer parking lot areas.

"Try and park in a high traffic area as close to a business as you can," she said.

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