ROBERT PRICE: A vexatious tale of the stolen car capital of California | Robert Price

To the list of things a little (or a lot) worse than usual this year – the second year of a nagging, lingering pandemic – add this: you’re more likely to find an empty spot in your driveway where your car was parked. just the night before.

After two consecutive years of declines – just 180,000 cars and trucks were reported stolen in California in 2020 – auto thefts are on the rise everywhere in 2021.

In Bakersfield, which has one of the worst auto theft rates per capita in the country, the number of stolen vehicles is up 29% from a year ago. Almost 400 cars are reported stolen here every month.

Zachary Been, 16, from Bakersfield, doesn’t feel particularly consoled by all this company. The 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser, which he had driven for 11 whole days, according to stolen car data never should have been in great danger. Who wants a non-production SUV (the FJs were discontinued in 2014) with 200,000 miles on the clock and a house paint job? Car thieves are said to prefer the latest generation pickup trucks built in the United States and Japanese imports like Toyotas and Hondas.

But, a week after her disappearance, the second year vehicle from Centennial High School – her first car – is still missing. And with his collision insurance coverage alone, he’s probably saved $ 5,000 in lawn mowing money over several years.

At times like this, we adults are supposed to point out that there is a lesson here somewhere, and Zachary is ready to make us happy.

“Perseverance,” he nodded. “Go with the flow. “

But the flux has swept away more than just a high mileage SUV. The stream swept away the beloved family vehicle he had bought for his mother, Rebecca Been (pronounced “bean”), and painstakingly “demoted” with the help of his younger brother.

Zachary was quoted $ 4,000 for a professional paint job, but the Blue Books vehicle only cost around $ 5,000. So, 11-year-old Zachary and Blake meticulously sanded mom’s silver and white factory paint job and, with 30 or 40 cans of “rattle box” spray paint, transformed it with a gray primer and then a black primer. The nearly finished product looked like something Batman could drive if he patrolled Yosemite instead of Gotham City.

“He probably spent November through February sanding it down completely,” said Rebecca Been, the Norris School District librarian. “And then he started researching all the different things he wanted to add to it. He put on a big bumper, new fender flares and new wheels. A new radio and bigger tires would come later. .

But the FJ Cruiser did not undergo a complete demummification: Zachary had decided to keep the RIVER license plate. It was his grandfather’s nickname for his daughter, Zachary’s mother. “I wanted to keep part of her with the car,” Zachary said. “But that also fits in a way since it’s an all-terrain vehicle. Ironically, this is also probably the first thing a car thief would remove if he ever hoped to drive the vehicle on a public road without being stopped.

The vehicle went missing from the Been’s home near Heath and Meacham Roads in northwest Bakersfield between last Saturday evening and Sunday morning December 12.

“My initial thought was that a family member had moved him to the street or took him somewhere,” said Zachary, who has to park in the driveway because he and his brother have taken over the garage. for their carpentry business, Been Bros.

He does not know how the thief escaped with the vehicle because he still has all of his keys. It didn’t leave any in the ignition or behind the sun visor, so someone must have broken into it.

Either way, he’s on the prowl now, as is his mother’s army of Facebook friends, one of whom has reported seeing something eerily familiar near Coarsegold in eastern Madera County. . Matte black paint, flared wings – but with red decals that Zachary hadn’t stuck on his FJ.

Bakersfield is on track for 4,757 reports of stolen cars in 2021, which would bury last year’s total of around 3,700. We don’t know how this ranks nationally, but in 2019 Bakersfield had the third highest number of stolen car reports per capita (752 per 100,000) behind only Albuquerque, NM (780) and Anchorage, Alaska (773). If you include all of Kern County, as some studies do, we’re # 1.

The good news is that California is one of the most effective states at recovering stolen vehicles, around 89%. But most of these vehicles are picked up within the first 48 hours and Zachary’s FJ Cruiser has been gone for a week. And, statewide, only 64% of all salvaged vehicles return reasonably intact.

“We were talking about this the other day,” Rebecca Been said of a recent conversation with her oldest son. I said, ‘Well, you know, if it comes back and it’s pretty messed up, maybe we better cut our losses because the mileage is pretty high. And it was never the car of your dreams. You have just made it the car of your dreams. Once you get started you have found ways to make it amazing.

“And he said, ‘No, if he comes back and the engine is still good, I’ll fix it again.’ So it tore my heart apart, because now I’m like, ‘I hope this will come back.’ “

If he doesn’t come back by Christmas, the persevering and carefree Zachary Been could end up with a new project. This will deserve a steering wheel lock.

Robert Price is a reporter for KGET-TV. His column appears here on Sundays; The opinions expressed are his own. Contact him at [email protected] or via Twitter: @stubblebuzz.

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