Arrests made in catalytic converter thefts

Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise in Grays Harbor County.

Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers said “we are seeing a significant increase in thefts in our area.” Recently, Hoquiam Police made arrests of suspects who have been tied to at least one of the thefts.

On Aug. 7, a resident parked his diesel pickup and boat trailer at a boat launch in Hoquiam for a day out fishing. When he returned in the evening, he discovered his catalytic converter and a large section of the exhaust system had been cut out from under his pick-up in the parking lot, said Myers.

“After reporting the theft to the Hoquiam Police Department, the truck was transported to the local dealership for repairs,” he said. “Due to the missing catalytic converter, plus the cut exhaust pipe, sensors and other exhaust controls removed or damaged, the repair estimate was over $7,700.”

The next day, Hoquiam detectives reviewed surveillance video of the area. They noted two subjects appeared to be casing the location as they would briefly leave, and then return in two separate vehicles, said Myers.

As others came and went from the boat launch, the two vehicles pulled into parking stalls on each side of the victim’s pick-up. A male suspect could be seen sliding under the truck while the female suspect walked casually around the area.

“After only a few minutes, the male suspect emerged from under the pick-up wielding a long section of the exhaust system, including the catalytic converter. The section was so large that he had great difficulty loading it into the back seat of his obviously too-small-of-a-car,” said Myers. “The female suspect had to come over to help load the exhaust into the car before both left the area.”

Hoquiam detectives were able to identify both suspects from the video. After conducting some research, detectives tracked them both, and their vehicles, to a residence in Aberdeen.

“In the few days to follow, detectives conducted surveillance on the house where they noted the suspects came and went in a variety of different vehicles,” said Myers. “On at least one occasion, detectives noted there was a pile of exhaust pieces stacked in the driveway, only to be gone the next day.”

Hoquiam detectives were able to secure a search warrant for the residence and the two associated vehicles observed in the video. In the early morning hours of Aug. 19, detectives from Hoquiam, Aberdeen and the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office served the search warrant.

Both suspects were located and arrested in the house. Detectives also seized numerous cutting tools and various vehicle exhaust parts from within the residence and vehicles.

“One part caught the eye of a Hoquiam detective who recognized it as a sensor and exhaust control valve consistent with a newer diesel pick-up,” said Myers. “After concluding the search warrant, the detective drove to the dealership where the diesel pick-up was still awaiting repairs. The detective was able to perfectly match the saw cut on the seized part to the saw cut on the remaining exhaust pipe under the pick-up like a puzzle-piece.”

Detectives from all three agencies have spent the days since the search warrant collecting open cases and information which could be related to the current investigation. Additional search warrants are likely.

“It is important for citizens to report any catalytic converter thefts (or attempts where damage was done) to their local law enforcement agency,” said Myers.”

“As the Sheriff’s Office and all police departments in Grays Harbor are on the same police records management system, current reports in the computer allow detectives to connect the dots should any other similar thefts be related to the current investigation.”

Hoquiam detectives seized both suspect vehicles subject to civil forfeiture as allowed by state law as they were intrinsically and directly involved in a felony crime, said Myers.

“It is believed the stolen catalytic converters were transported out-of-state where they were sold to an individual; detectives are referring the related trafficking in stolen property information to the appropriate law enforcement agency for follow-up,” added Myers.

The investigation is ongoing at this time. Anyone with additional leads or information can contact Det. Peterson at 360-532-0892 extension 276 or Det. Sgt. Mitchell at extension 287.