Bee Investigator: Modesto thieves accept invitations to swipe cars

snowicki@modbee.comAugust 25, 2013 

    alternate textSue Nowicki
    Title: Columnist, Faith & Family reporter
    Coverage areas: Weekly consumer column, plus features and news stories
    Bio: Sue Nowicki has worked at The Bee since 1982. She earned a Bachelor of Journalism degree from The University of Missouri, Columbia, and enjoys answering readers' questions and telling their stories.
    Recent stories written by Sue

— It's the end of August, and who wants a deep discussion on anything? Not me. Here are a few quick responses to questions from readers in an end-of-summer "Lite" edition:

Ed Howell of Modesto said, "Each week, we see 10-12 pictures of people in The Bee for auto theft. Are people leaving their keys in the car? Are car windows being broken? How do these thieves get in?"

Sgt. Alan Pittman of the Stanislaus County Auto Theft Task Force (thank goodness it's known by a shorter version — StanCATT) said there were 1,617 auto thefts from January through the end of June in Stanislaus County (including all of its cities). StanCATT has made 83 arrests in the same time period and recovered 110 stolen cars.

Very few cars are stolen because thieves break a window, Pittman said. Most thefts happen because folks "don't put any theft deterrent devices on their cars, not even something as simple as locking their doors."

The older model cars are the ones targeted most often, with the 1994 Honda Accord the most "popular" one for thieves at the moment.

"The older vehicles are easier to steal," Pittman explained. "People leave their doors unlocked, so it's fairly easy to break the ignition switch and start it."

In comparison, he said, newer cars have a computer chip in the key, and you need it to start the engine. But those cars, too, are targeted, "mostly because people will start their cars and leave them running while they go inside to have a cup of coffee and a bagel," Pittman said.

"The last couple of cars we recovered were stolen from people who ran in real quick to a convenience store and left their keys in the car. Don't make it easy for someone to steal your car. Keep your keys with you. Lock the doors, roll up the windows, use a steering wheel lock or get an alarm."

Ed also wanted to know what happens to those arrested on vehicle theft charges.

Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager said that in 2012, her office prosecuted 435 defendants in 373 cases and obtained 251 convictions. Some of those were from previous years, while other cases were settled this year or are still open, she said. In the first six months of 2013, her office had 140 cases on 163 defendants, and there were 84 convictions in the same time frame.

TREES CUT DOWN — Jim Strong of Modesto asked why some mature trees in the parking lot at 832 Oakdale Road were cut down. Grocery Outlet, Walgreens, O'Reilly Auto Parts and smaller stores use the lot.

"Employees told customers that a Starbucks is planned on the property, but no one can explain why the trees were cut down," Jim said. "A few starter trees have replaced the ones cut down, but they appeared healthy prior to their removal."

Steve Lumpkin, who oversees the city of Modesto's forestry division, said the trees in question were not city trees. The owner of the private property site apparently decided to replace them, so it wasn't a matter that involved the city.

And the city has not received any plans from Starbucks to put a store in that location, so that rumor appears to be false.

MORE ON RECYCLING — Several people wrote me in response to last week's article on the confusing laws governing the state recycling program. I pointed out that the California Redemption Value (CRV) is charged on a six-pack of 8-ounce plastic bottles of 100 percent apple juice (a total of 48 ounces), but not on the 46-ounce plastic bottle of the same stuff.

Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste wrote to say that the original recycling law "was adopted in 1986, and just included beer and soft drink containers. It was expanded by state Sen. Byron Sher in 1999 to include water, sports drinks and most juices.

"Ironically, it was then Assemblyman Mike Machado of Modesto who proposed the amendment in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee that maintained the exemption for '100 percent fruit juice in containers 46 ounces and larger.'

"This exemption was designed to match up with the current WIC program definition of fruit juice that is provided to some California families at a subsidized rate."

He said lobbyists killed an effort earlier this year to end that exemption.

Susan Mueller, who said she has worked in the state government in recycling for 15 years, also had harsh words for those lobbyists.

"Every time someone in your government tries to get all the beverages included in the California bottle bill — and believe me, we have — these big bullies run to the state capital with their money bags and start whining," she said. "They have all manner of excuses why their beverages should be exempt. … The industries that have beat the system include dairy, wine and spirits."

It's true. According to the state's recycling website, "most beverages packaged in aluminum, glass, plastic and bi-metal containers are eligible for CRV. Notable exceptions are milk, wine and distilled spirits, which are not included in the CRV program. CRV is 5 cents for each beverage container less than 24 ounces and 10 cents for each container 24 ounces or greater."

Finally, several people pointed out that plastic drink bottles — such as those for water — weigh differing amounts depending on the brand, which would affect the amount paid to people who take them to certified recycling centers, which usually pay by the pound. Dan Bernaciak, the assistant Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer for Stanislaus County, wrote that the state law says you can ask your recycler to pay you the CRV fee by the bottle, up to 50 of them. The same is true of glass bottles with CRV fees and aluminum cans, he added, although most folks will come out ahead on aluminum if they take the weight instead because of the salvage value of the metal.

For more tidbits or to find a certified recycler near you, check out the state's recycling site: bevcontainer.

Send questions to Sue Nowicki at, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.

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