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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Signs at gas stations in Conn. city warn of lightning-quick car thieves

    Bristol — Debra Wardlow, a recent car theft victim, talked about the value of new warning signs Tuesday while pumping gas and praising her protector.

    Placards that Bristol police are distributing to gas stations and convenience stores caution motorists not to leave vehicles unattended, even for a few seconds.

    "Criminals have developed expertise and quickened the time it takes to steal a car," police said in a Facebook post.

    Earlier this month, a brazen thief dragged a woman trying to keep her Dodge Charger from being stolen at a Bristol gas station on Pine Street. The woman was treated for scrapes to her hands after she clung to the side of the car and fell as the thief sped away. Police said the woman apparently left the car running at the pumps while she went into the store.

    The new signs, made by the Bristol Public Works Department, warn people to lock their cars and take keys and fobs with them.

    "If your engine is running," the signs read, "you might be walking."

    Wardlow said she did not leave her car running when she popped into a Pine Street restaurant about two weeks ago to pick up a pizza she had ordered. Her fiance also was the car, but he went inside to use the restroom. And in the few minutes when both were in the restaurant, the car was stolen, Wardlow said.

    "It happened just that quick," she said.

    Police found the vehicle on Emmett Street within 24 hours, Wardlow said. She guessed that the fob she had with her was within range to allow a thief to start the unlocked car with the push-button ignition.

    Tara Silva-Jackson of Bristol, who was pumping gas into her husband's Mercedes sedan at the same Farmington Avenue station that Wardlow was patronizing, said she has been seeing more news about car thefts in Connecticut and is "definitely more aware" of watching out for her vehicle and making sure she turns off the ignition when leaving the car.

    In Newington recently, armed robbers stole a Toyota RAV4 at gunpoint and used it as their getaway car for a string of weekend hold-ups in Hartford County. The victim told police he'd been warming up his car in his driveway when the car-jacker approached and pointed a handgun at him, demanding the keys.

    Car thefts have increased steadily over the last decade in the state, rising 15.4 percent since 2013, and juvenile thieves are responsible for some of the uptick, police say. In January, a 14-year-old Hartford boy died after the stolen car he was in crashed into a house in Wethersfield. Some state legislators, particularly Republicans, have called for tougher penalties for repeat juvenile offenders.

    Wardlow said the new warning sign at Xpress Fuel in Bristol, which was propped outside on a lower window Tuesday, should be displayed more prominently. Store manager M.D. Ali said he planned to post the sign so more people would notice it.

    Wardlow, 55, of Georgia, said she has been in Connecticut on business. Her fiance's wallet was in the stolen car and thieves tried to use the credit cards, she said, but her fiance immediately blocked transactions.

    The license plate on her Mercedes reads, "GDZFAVE," and Wardlow said she gives all thanks to God, not just for the recovery of her car, but also for the blessing that neither she nor her fiance were with the vehicle when it was taken.

    "At the end of the day, it's a piece of property," Wardlow said.

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