FAIRFIELD — It took less than a minute.
Micheal Holloway had just gotten into his car to go to California State University, Sacramento, and turned on the ignition at about 7 a.m. Jan. 31, when he realized he had the wrong debit card and ran into the house to get the correct one.
“When he ran outside, the car was gone,” his wife Conni Holloway said. “We learned a valuable lesson on the 31st: Don’t leave your keys in the ignition.”
A glitch in the ignition system caused the car to shut down not far away, where police found it Feb. 16. The thieves tried to restart it by drilling a hole to the ignition to start it again, but failed.
The Holloways are one of 450 to 550 estimated Fairfield and Suisun City car owners who get their cars stolen every year. That number doesn’t include the number of cars that are broken into.
“It is an easy crime of opportunity with low risk to the offender,” said Gretchen Ash, Vacaville Police Department’s crime prevention officer. “On average, it takes only five seconds to break into a vehicle.”
In Suisun City, motor vehicle theft went up 63 percent between November 2012 and November 2013, while in Fairfield, it climbed by 25 percent during the same time period.
“We felt helpless,” Conni Holloway said of the effect the theft had on her and having to make do with one less car in the family.
The theft made the Holloways more suspicious, with Conni Holloway saying they look over their shoulder more.
When the thieves abandoned the car, they took the sports equipment that Micheal Holloway used for coaching basketball at Vanden High School. To add insult to injury, the couple had to pay $300 to get the car out of the tow yard. They also had to take the car to an auto shop to get the damage to the ignition system repaired.
This wasn’t the first time the Holloways were hit by car thieves. Six months ago, a friend was staying with the Holloways when the friend’s Honda was stolen from in front of her house.
“We did not know the car was stolen until the police knocked on our door to say, ‘We found your car,’ ” Holloway said.
The Honda was found on Grande Circle with the suspected thieves still in it, as well as items suspected to be from other car burglaries. Talks to neighbors revealed that there were attempts to steal other Hondas on the street that same night.
Fairfield Crime Prevention Officer Jeffrey Conner described car thefts and burglaries as crimes of opportunity and said vehicle owners have a lot of opportunities to lower the odds of becoming victims.
Suisun City Police Master Sgt. Ted Stec said a lot of people like warming up their cars in the winter before heading to work, to clear windows that might be iced over or fogged up. Leaving the vehicle while doing that, even for a minute or two, invites theft, Stec said.
“Keys left in ignitions could also tempt crooks to steal when they weren’t actually looking to do so at that time,” Stec said.
Stec also recommends that people consider making it a resolution to clean up the garage enough to make room to put the car in there.
“Make your vehicles less enticing to thieves by locking them up, parking in well-lighted areas if possible and keeping them free of obvious bonuses like cellular phones, laptop computers, suitcases, briefcases, presents and other apparent valuables,” Stec said.
Conner said that taking out or putting out of view anything that even appears to be valuable is a good idea because a car thief may think that backpack he sees may contain something valuable like a laptop computer or an iPod.
“Keep your car locked, but also keep it clear of anything that gives someone a reason to get into your car,” Conner said.
When it comes to where people park their cars, Stec, Conner and Ash recommend giving serious thought to where to park – in well-lighted areas, someplace with a motion-sensor light if possible.
“Conduct your own research on anti-theft devices,” Stec said.
While this lowers the odds, Conner said car owners should not be fooled that they will be immune from car theft and burglary.
If people are getting their cars repeatedly stolen or broken into, Conner recommends calling police to get advice on what could be attracting the criminals.
“We can go out and make suggestions to make it tougher,” Conner said.
When your car is stolen or burglarized, “time is of the essence in terms of recovery and arrest,” Stec said.
“Being prepared in advance to provide your license plate number, vehicle brand, model, color and any distinguishing characteristics all aid in the most efficient response,” Stec said. “And of course, if the suspect is observed, the dispatcher will ask for a description of the suspect and direction of travel.”
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.