Area ranks high in vehicle thefts

Lock the doors, and roll up the windows.

The Augusta area ranks third in the state for automobile thefts -- topping similarly sized cities such as Macon and Savannah, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Nationwide, the Augusta-Richmond County Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Richmond, Columbia, Burke, Aiken, Edgefield and McDuffie counties, is ranked 55th.

And the past three years indicate it is steadily moving up the list.

There were 2,385 vehicle thefts in 2007, at a rate of 451.26 per 100,000 residents. In two years, the metro area has risen from 98th to 55th in the nation.

Part of the problem, according to Lt. Tony Walden of the Richmond County sheriff's property crime division, is the rising price of scrap metal, which has thieves choosing to scrap cars instead of drive them.

"At one time they would pretty much ride them until they run out of gas, but now we have seen an increase of them being found in salvage yards," Lt. Walden said.

Thieves can take the vehicles to recycling centers and get a fee based on the car's weight, according to sheriff's Investigator Kendall Brown, who tracks metal thefts. If the vehicle is less than 8 years old, the owner must provide the center with its bill of sale and registration.

Otherwise, all they need to show is the registration.

"A typical midsized sedan -- not a truck -- of about 2,000 pounds could fetch somewhere between $300 to $500," Investigator Brown said.

Last month, he recovered a stolen Chevrolet van at a recycling center. The van, which was valued at about $3,500, had been sold for $486 and was scheduled to be crushed for scrap metal.

But metal isn't the only rising commodity that appears to be driving vehicle thefts.

David Colmans, the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service, said increased fuel prices seem to be changing what kind of vehicles thieves target.

Although the insurance crime bureau's ranking only tallies automobile thefts, Mr. Colmans said motorcycle thefts are increasing across Georgia.

"I would caution people who have motorcycles, especially now with gas prices being what they are. Those kind of vehicles are going to be even more in demand," Mr. Colmans said.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.

TOP THEFTS

This ranking is based on 1.2 million motor vehicle thefts reported by law enforcement agencies to the National Crime Information Center in 2004.

GEORGIA

1. 1993 Ford Econoline E150

2. 1998 GMC Jimmy

3. 1995 Jeep Wrangler

4. 2000 Toyota Tacoma

5. 2001 International Harvester Straight Truck

SOUTH CAROLINA

1. 1994 Honda Accord

2. 1997 Ford F150 Series

3. 1996 Ford Explorer

4. 1994 Chevrolet Full Size C/K 1500 Pickup

5. 1989 Chevrolet Caprice

Source: National Insurance Crime Bureau