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Police warning about catalytic converter thefts

By Shavonne Potts
shavonne.potts@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — After several recent attempted or successful attempts of catalytic converters from vehicles, police are reminding the public there are ways to protect vehicles from becoming victims.

“It’s not just a Salisbury problem, it’s a nationwide problem,” said Salisbury Police Department spokesman Lt. Lee Walker.

Located underneath the vehicle between the exhaust muffler and the engine, the catalytic converter’s main job is to turn harmful pollutants produced by the car, including carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, into safer emissions before they exit the exhaust. Salisbury Police investigators Jacob Easler and Robert Ginn say catalytic converters are likely one of the easiest vehicle parts to steal and are also one of the most valued among thieves.

In August, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department reported a 372% increase in catalytic converters being stolen. There have also been reports in Rowan.

The victim in one recent incident was able to get a description of the man, and police are hoping the public can help catch him. The suspect is described as an Asian male, between 40 and 50 years old with salt and pepper gray hair. He was seen driving a Toyota Sienna van with gold emblems on it.

In January, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office charged Michael Wayne Hester, 39, and 40-year-old Holly Marie Robertson, who are accused of the theft of catalytic converters from C&D Salvage in China Grove. The two were developed as suspects and were found with a number of catalytic converters in their possession.

The devices have become popular among thieves because they are easy to steal and hard to track, Ginn said. Unlike vehicle identification numbers located on most dashboards and door panels, catalytic converters are not serialized.

“There’s no real way of tracking them,” Easler said.

There’s also no way to say which car a particular catalytic converter came from, Ginn said.

Thieves are attracted to catalytic converters because it can take just a few minutes to either cut or unbolt them free from vehicles. The biggest draw is the platinum contained within the device.

Are certain cars targeted for the catalytic converters? The answer is complicated, Easler said.

The catalytic converters on some car models are more valuable, Easler said. For instance, the Toyota Prius releases fewer emissions, which means less corrosion on the catalytic converter, he said. Toyota Prius models made before 2011 are also easier to access, the detectives said.

“Priuses are targeted because they are worth more. They are more valuable,” Easler said.

Ginn said thieves have also targeted work trucks in the city and county.

Because incidents have occurred in the city of Salisbury and elsewhere in the county, police are working with Rowan County Sheriff’s Office detectives to share information about their respective investigations.

Thieves take the devices to scrap dealers, who in some cases, ask no questions about where the devices came from, and hand over cash for it.

Easler and Ginn recommend residents park vehicles in a garage, if possible. They also suggest parking cars in a well-lit area to deter thieves and invest in a vehicle alarm system.

People will know if their catalytic converter has been stolen because their vehicles will be louder than usual since the exhaust system no longer reduces engine noise.

Contact law enforcement if you believe your catalytic converter is stolen and then contact your insurance agent to determine if your policy covers catalytic converter theft.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Salisbury Police Department at 704-638-5333 to report any similar suspicious behavior or if you have details on the most recent attempted theft.

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