FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --Metal thieves are targeting vehicles in Fresno and ripping out the catalytic converters for the precious metals they contain, police say.
Heather Wigger was only gone for ten minutes when the catalytic converter was stolen from her Toyota Sequoia. "We parked, went in, came out and they were gone," she said.
It happened during a busy President's Day at Riverpark in Fresno. The parking lot was packed, yet no one caught it-- just the surveillance cameras. Sgt. Michael Landon with Fresno Police said, "Most people aren't gonna be alerted by a car parked like that and people standing next to it."
In the video, two people stand as look-outs on the side of Wigger's SUV. At one, point Wigger's daughter went back to it and opened it up but she didn't realize what was happening. "I sent my daughter out to the car, to get something and they were there," Wigger added, "what if something happened to her in the process of doing that? That's what scares me."
Sgt. Landon has been tracking the crime. He says thieves ripped off 19 vehicles last month and it could be crews from out of town, travelling up and down Highway 99. "They'll come into the city for a brief period of time and a lot of times before these crimes are even reported, they're gone -- they're on the freeway and they're headed out," Sgt. Landon said.
Javier Sanchez, who works at Gary's Muffler shop says it happens quickly, "It's just one cut right there, one cut right there and it comes down."
He says seven victims ended up at the shop this week for a replacement part, which can be expensive - anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
He says thieves are after Toyota trucks and SUVs, anything a thief can crawl under but what they really want is a small piece inside the catalytic converter-- a brick containing precious metals like platinum that can be scrapped for about $100. "If they want it that bad, they're gonna take it," Chavez said.
If a thief steals your catalytic converter, mechanics suggest replacing it with an after-market part. They say it's less valuable and less likely to be stolen.