Car thieves prowling TRAX parking lots
53 vehicles stolen last year; police and UTA boost patrols
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Every morning since it opened, Bruce Cutler would drive to the TRAX park-and-ride lot at the Midvale Fort Union Station, 7250 S. 180 West, to meet his carpool to work.
Each day, Cutler would park his 1991 Nissan two-wheel-drive pickup in the lot and hop into another car to travel to Utah County.
On Jan. 20, Cutler had just returned from work and said goodbye to the people in the carpool and then realized something wasn't right.
"I went to get my little pickup and it wasn't there," he said.
Cutler said he called his wife to ask if she had picked up the car at some point during the day. She told him she had not. Cutler then knew his car had been stolen.
"How could somebody do this?" was the thought going around in his head.
Cutler said he never would have guessed that an old pickup with no special features would be the target of
car thieves. These days, he still goes to the park-and-ride lot to meet his carpool, but he has his wife drop him off.
"If they're going to steal something that old, they might steal something newer as well," he said of the decision not to park his other car in the lot.
Although car thefts are not an everyday problem at TRAX park-and-ride lots, both police and UTA officials are beefing up patrols and installing more security measures to deter potential burglars and car thieves.
In 2003, 53 vehicles were stolen from UTA's 11 TRAX park-and-ride lots. That's a relatively small number considering an average of 15,000 vehicles use the lots every day, said UTA spokesman Justin Jones.
A little less than half of those thefts were in Sandy. The Sandy Civic Center Station, 115 E. Sego Lily Drive (9800 South), had the most cars stolen in 2003 with 13. Second was the Historic Sandy Station, 165 E. 9000 South, with 10.
Part of the reason may be the size of the park-and-ride lots in Sandy.
The lot on Sego Lily has 1,185 parking spaces, more than double any other lot. An average of 787 vehicles park in that lot each weekday, according to UTA. Every other TRAX lot in Salt Lake County averages fewer than 270 cars each day, excluding weekends.
In addition, the Sego Lily parking lot is close to the South Towne Center, is in a low-traffic area and attracts thieves from both Utah and Salt Lake counties, said Sandy police Sgt. Michelle Burnette.
But Sandy has taken steps to reduce crime at its TRAX stations.
Of the 13 cars stolen from the Sego Lily lot in 2003, only three were taken in the last six months of the year. And of the 10 vehicles stolen at the Historic Sandy Station, just two were taken in the second half of the year.
Burnette said her department has stepped up patrols of the TRAX lots and told all of its officers to do quick drive-throughs whenever they're in the area. Officers are also told to stop and talk to anyone seen walking around the lots, she said.
Still, the number of car thefts at the TRAX parking lots in Sandy isn't extraordinarily high, Burnette said. In comparison, four cars were stolen from the parking lot of South Towne Center from July to December of 2003.
The lot with the third-most cars stolen in 2003 was the Ballpark Station, 180 W. 1300 South. The lot only has 170 spaces and averages fewer than 100 cars per weekday. But nine vehicles were stolen from the lot last year, according to UTA.
The Murray Central Station near 140 West and 5100 South had eight cars stolen from its parking lot in 2003, according to the Murray Police Department. That lot receives an average of 269 vehicles per weekday, the second most in the valley.
That park-and-ride lot is close to where the new Intermountain Health Center is being built. The hospital won't be completed for a couple of years, however. For now, there are hardly any businesses near the lot, and police, who have stepped up patrols in the area, believe the low-traffic area is appealing to potential thieves.
Midvale's Fort Union Station, 180 W. 7250 South, had eight cars stolen from Feb. 1, 2003, to Feb. 1, 2004, according to the Midvale Police Department. The Midvale Center Station, 95 W. 7720 South, had five vehicles stolen during that same time period. Of those stolen vehicles, only one has been recovered, said Midvale police Sgt. John Salazar.
South Salt Lake's Meadowbrook Station, 188 W. 3900 South, had just two cars stolen from its lot in 2003. All three of that city's park-and-ride lots have had a total of eight cars stolen from October of 2000, to Jan. 28, 2004, according to South Salt Lake police. In comparison, Century 16 Theaters, 107 E. 3300 South, has had four cars stolen during that same time period.
UTA is doing its part to make those lots safer, Jones said. In addition to patrols by UTA security, the company is installing surveillance cameras and other security devices as it acquires the money to purchase those items.
But there are also some common-sense things that car owners can do, Jones said, such as parking in well-lighted areas and not leaving keys or other valuables in plain view inside the car.
Some people try to avoid door dings by parking on the outermost edge of parking lots, Jones said. The chances of having a car stolen are lessened if a person parks in high-traffic areas, he said.UTA is also preparing to announce a new transit watch program that will allow residents to call a designated number if they see suspicious activity happening around a TRAX area.
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