Ruth Maunakea isn't surprised the Modesto area is still ranked No. 1 in the nation for vehicle thefts.
The 32-year-old single mother of three was a victim twice in a two-month span last year.
While both her vehicles later were recovered, the now vigilant victim said she still has emotional scars that haven't healed.
"You don't know how devastated I was," said Maunakea, who now won't leave her home at night. "If they can break into my car, then they can break into my home."
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She saved $1,500 to buy a 1992 Plymouth Voyager minivan in February 2005. Two months later, it was stolen from her driveway in west Modesto.
"That was the first car I was able to buy on my own," Maunakea said. "I used it for my family."
She found the minivan a couple of months later abandoned. Its hubcaps were gone and it had a torn-up steering column that's still broken. The thief also stole her CDs, photos of her children and three child safety seats that were inside the minivan.
In the meantime, she used a 1988 Toyota Corolla to get around town. That car was stolen a month later, from the same driveway.
Maunakea wondered why any thief would want to steal her vehicles, especially the Toyota.
"That car could not get you to Stockton and back," Maunakea said. "This was just a little bucket to get me back and forth here in Modesto."
Patricia and Aristeo Marquez also have changed their routine after someone stole their 1987 Chevrolet pickup from the driveway of their north Modesto home in December.
They now park all their vehicles overnight in the back yard, which is guarded by a pit-bull dog.
"You think you would be safe in Modesto," said 29-year-old Patricia Marquez. "I lived in the Bay Area for 20 years and this never happened to us."
The pickup was found a day after it was stolen, about six blocks from their home. The tools Aristeo Marquez uses in his custodial business were gone, as were his stereo speakers.
Daniel Marsh, a 57-year-old substitute teacher, wasn't that lucky.
The California Highway Patrol recovered the skeletal remains of his 1999 Hyundai Accent about a month after it was stolen in July from in front of his home in west Modesto.
Since then, Marsh started an online discussion group for auto theft victims in Modesto.
"I wanted to get some political action to give more resources to law enforcement," Marsh said. "And when you're No. 1 in auto thefts, the criminals are more organized than the police."
Brandi Spears never found her 1999 Honda Civic that was stolen in December from her apartment complex in north Modesto. The complex was gated and she parked it in her designated carport, never thinking someone would steal it.
Since then, Spears and her family bought a home in Waterford, partly because of the theft. While she didn't have a car alarm, she said there were no signs of forced entry left behind.
"I felt violated," Spears said. "I think (the thief) must have been eyeing my car for a long while, and that just makes me feel creepy."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at 578-2394 or email@example.com.