Police: Man tricks parking valet, takes Mercedes

Posted at 11:48 PM, Dec 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-02 23:48:43-05

Police in Delray Beach say a man convinced a valet at the Seagate Hotel a car in the garage was his and drove away with it. But the owner was upstairs in their hotel room.

According to an arrest report, Douglas Middleton, 59, approached the valet at the Seagate Friday evening and said he had a Mercedes Benz in the parking lot. A bellman showed Middleton a key asking if it was his, Middleton said yes and drove away.

Police found the car a few blocks away. A witness told an officer Middleton stopped in the middle of South Ocean Boulevard. Officers say they found the keys to the 2015 Mercedes C300, valued at $40,000, in Middleton's pocket.

The Orlando man is charged with disorderly intoxication and grand theft of an auto.

The Seagate general manager says this is the only time a car has been stolen from the hotel's valet. He says the hotel is investigating what happened and wants to reassure people they take security seriously.

NewsChannel 5 spoke with other valet companies to learn more about the protocols and what you need to know to make sure your car isn't taken.

Evan Hernandez works with AG Valet, which services about seven spots in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

He says every customer gets a ticket. It includes a number which matches a ticket in the car and on the keychain. Customers have to return their ticket to get the corresponding car.

If a customer loses their ticket, Hernandez asks them a question only the car's owner would be able to answer like what is inside the car, or what does the keychain look like.

"If it does sound sketchy, I would ask for their ID so I can match it to the registration of the car, that'd be pretty much sure confirmation," Hernandez points out.

He says training for employees is important,. But he doesn't think incidents like this should scare people away from using a valet, pointing out there is nothing stopping a thief in public parking lots.

"Technically it's probably safer to valet because you have multiple people walking around looking at your cars and parking the cars," he says.

Faith Collins never uses a valet. She says she'd rather save money by finding her own parking spot, plus she doesn't like giving up control of her car.

"You don't want somebody else driving your car, being in your space, so maybe that's in the back of my head as to why I never [valet]," Collins says.

Delray Beach resident Roz Fantone valets her car about once a week. She says she's never had any issues and is surprised to hear someone convinced a valet to hand over keys without a ticket.

"They seem to have some safeguards in place which work pretty well," Fantone says of her experiences.

An agent at Wiglesworth-Rindom Insurance says valets should have liability plan which would cover a stolen car. But he suggests you have a comprehensive policy for your car which would cover theft, flood and vandalism.  

Police say the Mercedes belonged the Hertz and was rented to a couple from New York visiting Delray Beach. The couple did not want to be identified, but said the hotel has been very accommodating throughout the situation.