By Alan Gionet

LONGMONT, Colo. (CBS4) – The death of a 93-year-old man hit by a stolen vehicle in Longmont Thursday unscored the rise in problems in Colorado in auto theft. The state now ranks second in the United States in terms of car thefts.

It’s frustrating to police in Longmont and other communities.

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(credit: CBS)

“I can tell you in Longmont, they’ve gone up far higher than I’ve ever seen them,” said Jeff Satur, Deputy Chief of Police Services for the Longmont Department of Public Safety. “We used to average in a 265 range, and last year in 2020, we were in 430 if I recall,” he said.

Longmont is not alone. The Toyota Tacoma involved in the crash in Longmont on Thursday was stolen in Boulder.

“They’re stealing them for a purpose. They’re using them to do other crimes,” he said. “They’re not using it to go to work.”

Law enforcement believes many of those crimes are drug crimes. Car thieves typically don’t hold onto cars for very long. They show up often within days or weeks.

The crash in Longmont follows the crash of a stolen vehicle during a chase in Brighton on Tuesday that led to the deaths of two innocent people. Another stolen vehicle also crashed in Brighton earlier in the week during a police chase. Colorado once tracked along with the national average on auto theft about 10 years ago.

Now it’s about three times that rate.

(credit: Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority, Colorado State Patrol)

“I do scan all the trucks that pass by me. I look to see if maybe that’s my parents’ truck,” said Antonia Arzapala.

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Her parents owned a 2010 Chevrolet Silverado that disappeared one morning in mid-September when it was parked in front of their home in Commerce City.

“Hard working people that have everything paid off and what not and just to get it stolen within a couple minutes. It sucks.” There’s been no sign of of the truck. “It could be involved in something horrible. It could be chopped up somewhere for parts. We have no idea what’s happened to this truck.”

Police didn’t offer much.

(credit: CBS)

“They’re very backed up or what not. It’s just nothing’s happening. Just a police report. Just to give it to your insurance and then move on,” said Arzapala.

She thinks it’s possible the thieves were the same people who came over to look at the truck the night before it was stolen. Her parents were going to sell it to buy a new one.

There was no response until they came over for a test drive. They brought the truck back, but Arzapala thinks they had a key made while they had it. An ID shown by the man who took it for a ride turned out to belong to someone else, she says.

Thieves usually aren’t that clever. Satur noted a lot of thefts are due to keys left in cars or puffers – those left running.

“Unfortunately, the penalties if you get caught are not that high,” he said.

COVID-19 has also had an effect, he believes. People charged with minor crimes like car theft were released.

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“We couldn’t jail people. We couldn’t hold them accountable and they’re back on the streets stealing cars… There are just some people, unless they’re in jail, they’re going to continue to do crimes.”

Alan Gionet