Thursday, January 23, 2014

In Conclusion...

Holy frijole, here is the story of how our car was stolen, we got it back, and the crazy, mixed-up events that followed.

Sometime between 8:00pm on 1/19/14 and 5:30am on 1/20/14 our car was stolen right out of our driveway.  The doors were locked, the alarm never went off; it was totally gone.  I know it’s a material thing, but to be honest, we were devastated.  We’re a one-car family with two kids and Joey works far away, so taking the only car we had was a huge hardship.  Beyond that, our car is almost like the family pet--we’re so comfortable in it, it has our books and toys and music, and on the back was that good old Power Motors sticker. 

Fast forward to 1:45pm on 1/22/14. 

Joey’s dad had just dropped his pickup off for us to use and had crossed the Kingston/Edmonds ferry to go back to Port Angeles.  I was reading to the kids when the call came in.  “This is the Seattle Police Department calling for Eleanor Leonard to say that we have located your car.”  There was sort of this panicked, excited silence that occurred for a moment.  I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t know whether I was really happy or walking into something that could potentially be even more devastating. 

“Joey, they found the car.”  Who knows what my voice sounded like?  Joey jumped up and said, “What?!”  So then there was a mad scramble to figure out how to get to the car.  We had to either find someone to watch the kids so that we could both go down in the pickup, or find someone to drive Joey down there.  We called every single person we could think of, and everyone was either sick, at work, or not picking up their phone.  Finally we got ahold of Dan Dial who drove Joey down to Capitol Hill where our car was parked. 

I stayed home with the kids, waiting for a phone call.  I was reading to them but I can’t think what we were reading.  My mind was a total blank.  Finally Joey gave me a call and it went something like this:

“I’m at the car and it doesn’t look damaged.  But it’s totally full of crap--electronics and stuff.”

I told him to give the police a call because we weren’t supposed to touch anything that wasn’t ours in the car--that’s what our insurance agent had told us.  So Joey called and an officer from the East Precinct was sent over.  In the meantime, a woman came out of the apartment building next to where the car was parked and said, “What are you doing with that car?”  Joey told her that it was his and had been stolen.  Her response was something like, “Really?  I thought that was my boyfriend’s car; he’s been driving it around.”  Some people have all the brains.  But I digress.

When the police officer arrived, Joey showed him everything in our car.  It was filled to the ceiling with bags, tools, dog beds, whatever.  He told the officer about the woman and where she lived, and that it was her boyfriend who had our car.  The officer sounded tired and said something to the effect of, “If I don’t see the guy behind the wheel, I can’t charge him with a crime.”  He told Joey that it was his (Joey’s) responsibility to get rid of the stuff.  Sounded odd, but we figured he knew what he was talking about.

Joey brought the car home, and thankfully it runs great.  Nothing was stripped, the ignition isn’t messed up, only the Power Motors sticker was unsuccessfully tampered with.  Good old Power Motors.  But when I started to pull things out of the car, I was amazed at what I found.  There were piles of personal information, including tax forms with social security numbers, credit cards, licenses, bank statements, insurance information, health cards, disabled veterans IDs, handicapped placards, hospital security badges, phone bills, anything you could think of.  Then I found about 15 backpacks full of textbooks, tests, registration information, you name it.  There were bags and bags of clothing, including fur high heels, lots of pumps, letterman’s jackets, bomber jackets, leather gloves, jeans, and even underwear.  There were purses and wallets.  There were a million brand new tools, tool belts, an ax, screwdrivers, a blow torch (apparently different than a flame thrower--who knew?), several switchblades, flashlights, many garage door openers, several key rings with probably over 100 keys, and many tools I don’t know the name for.  There were electronics, including a big screen TV (tube, not flat), a VCR, a DVD player, phones, phone accessories, cords, jacks, speakers, faceplates, etc.  There was a dog bed, glitzy bras, and plenty of drugs and paraphernalia.  I found a new role of aluminum foil, and several used pieces that had apparently been used for smoking either heroin or meth in our car (super).  There was white powder up by the gear shift, small empty baggies, bottles of marijuana, used and unused joints in the door handles, and crack pipes. 

We got the car cleaned out, put everything in the dumpster, and bought brand new car seats (they threw away anything baby related--books, seats, Max’s mirror, toys--because apparently it might make them look suspicious while they smoked their heroin).  But after everything was said and done, we still felt like the whole situation was messed up.  With this much evidence (one city dumpster that was spilling over), why couldn’t they catch this guy?  I started calling people from the identifying information and telling them to check their bank accounts and credit history, and they were all grateful.  One man, whose tax information I had, said that his house had actually been broken into a couple months ago and his identity had been stolen.  I called hospitals and everyone I could who had a missing badge and told them I had it.  But why was it our responsibility to do all this?  It seemed really fishy.  And weren’t we being a target for the same people to come back and get their stuff, and possibly our car again, too?  I felt really unsafe.

So we decided to call the police up again and talk to them about the situation.  They sent an officer over from the North Precinct who came in and asked us a bunch of questions.  We showed him some of the stolen items, the identifying information, etc., and his jaw dropped.  He couldn’t believe that we were told to deal with this ourselves, that the woman was never questioned, and that the police officer just left.  He told us it was a major violation.  Then he called his supervisor over to the house (now 11:00pm) and they discussed it in detail.  We started digging through the trash to put together the strips of people’s information that I had shredded.  Then they brought over a police van and we dug through the dumpster and pulled out every piece of evidence. 

After this was all said and done, they said that there would be a major investigation into the original police officer’s conduct.  He apparently was not doing his job today.  He should have gathered the evidence, interviewed the woman, and then gone inside the building to find the suspect.  Instead he said it was out of his hands because the crime wasn’t being committed in front of him.  So he sent us on our way to clean up drugs, stolen items, and people’s personal information. 

So the result of all this is that there may be a lot of happy people.  There have been many reports of stolen items, identities being stolen, stolen cars, and break-ins, and because this criminal was dumb enough to leave everything he owned in our car and park it out front of his own apartment, he’s most likely going to get charged with many crimes.  This will link together a lot of unsolved cases, which the police officers seemed pretty pleased about. 

So we have our happy ending after all, though we’re still a little shaken.  We need to scrub the car with soap and water on the inside before we’ll feel comfortable about what went on in there, but it will be our car once again after a few days.  Our kids are safe, our family is safe, we have our car back, and a criminal will probably be going to jail.  Not bad.

Thanks to all our friends and family who stepped up to help us these past few days.  We couldn’t have done this without you!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dear car thief: I don't hate you

January 21, 2014

Dear Car Thief,

Sometime early yesterday morning you stole our car from our home in Northgate.  It wasn’t a new car, it wasn’t an amazing car, but it was our car.  It was almost 10 years old, but for us it was really nice and it had four brand new tires.  Before you took it, did you notice the two car seats in the back--one for an infant, and one for a toddler?  Yes, those are our kids.  Did you see their books?  Did you see their toys?  Did you see the little animal pads that went around their seatbelts to keep their necks safe and free from scratches?  We’re really careful with our kids because we love them.

When you broke into the driver’s side door, did you notice the Grocery Union sticker in the window?  Did that make you think that maybe we aren’t rich and that someone in our family works really hard to support us?  Did you see the Safeway hat inside on the floor, the empty muffin wrapper, the bottle of Ibuprofen in the glove box?  Did that make you think about how hard the person who drives our car works?

Did you notice (you probably didn’t) the Power Motors sticker on the back of the car?  Did you know that was our grandpa and great-grandpa’s car dealership that was in our family for generations?  Did you know that our family, our cousins, our uncles and aunts, our parents, all grew up running around the “garage,” playing around the cars, getting dirty, and learning how to change the oil?  Did you know this was the last car from that dealership to be in our family before it closed?  No, you probably didn’t know that.  That sticker was important.

Maybe you think you’ve hurt us.  Probably not--I’m sure you don’t think much about it at all.  I don’t even know if you’re still in our car or if you’ve dumped it somewhere.  But you haven’t hurt us.  Shook us up, yes.  But we’re stronger than that.  A car is just a car, and we are a family.  We have food in our bellies, a roof over our heads, and warm beds to sleep in at night.  I hope you have the same, though I wonder.  We’ll get another car; that’s why we pay car insurance every month--something we struggle to cover.

Ironically we had just ordered an iPod transmitter for our car because our last system got stolen a couple weeks ago.  Was that you, too? 

I was so angry with you.  We were exhausted because the kids are sick, my husband couldn’t get to work, it was 5:30am.  But I was angry because you scared our little girl.  She’s 2 and she told me she was worried about the “bad man who takes our car.”  But maybe you’re a female; I don’t know.  But I thought, How dare you scare our children?  How dare you make them feel afraid and sad?  What right do you have to mess with little children’s feelings?  But you know what?  We will heal, and our little girl prayed for you last night, that you would change and become “good not bad anymore.”

The bottom line is, I don’t hate you.  I don’t know if we’ll ever see our car again.  If we don’t, we’ll make it work.  There are other cars, and we have a family that loves us and is helping us in the meantime.  We have friends who love us and have offered us whatever we need until we can get this mess straightened out.  And maybe we will get our car back.  But will it be “our” car anymore?  Or will it smell like smoke, or drugs, or whatever went on inside it?  Will we ever feel comfortable putting our kids back in the car seats (if they come back, too), knowing that anything could have gone on in our car?  Did you have more people in our car?  Did you commit more crimes in our car?  Did other people like you see our kids’ seats, their books, their toys?  I’m not going to lie, that really creeps me out. 

But, no, I don’t hate you.  I’m making the choice to love you instead.  I’m angry with you, but I’ve been angry before and it will pass.  I feel sorry for you because your life has to be pretty bad if this is what you choose to do with it.  I don’t know if you’re addicted to drugs, I don’t know if you’re homeless and just need the money, I don’t know what your situation is, but I’m guessing that our life is probably a lot safer, cozier, and happier, and so for that I’m sorry for you.  I don’t want anybody to have grown up in a house where they’re taught to commit crimes to survive.  I hope you had a good childhood, but I’m guessing it wasn’t the best. 

So here’s what you can do today.  Change.  If you have kids, change for them.  Your kids are going to be the adults that live in the world with my kids--either stealing their cars, or curing their illnesses, teaching their kids, building their houses, whatever.  You have the opportunity to make this stop.  You’re a person who’s made mistakes, just like me, just like everyone.  Maybe your mistakes are a little more obvious, but no worse than anything else that people do behind closed doors.  Take today to change your life and become who you were meant to be. 

I don’t know if you believe in God, but I do.  He’s pretty awesome and He loves you, no matter what you do.  But I imagine He’s pretty upset with the choices you’ve made, just as any good parent would be.  So change.  Change for yourself, change for your kids, change for your family, change for your future.  You can have a cozy home, a safe family, friends who love you and want the best for you; it’s up to you.  If I knew you, I’d say “Here’s the door, come in, have supper with us.”  But again, it’s up to you.  Do you love the life you have now?  Is it what you wanted when you were five and you had dreams about your future?  If not, it’s not too late. 

So we love you and forgive you.  Now it’s time to step up.  You were meant for something better.  I wish you all the best.


Ellie Leonard