Vehicle theft in Fresno is on the rise

FRESNO, Calif.

The city ranked fifth on the National Crime Insurance Bureau's auto theft list last year. This year, things are worse, and detectives say there might be just a few people to blame.

A crowd of Fresno police officers surrounded a minivan after a stolen vehicle report Monday.

Angel Dominguez knows how the victim feels. Thieves have stolen his Saturn twice this year. "It's extremely frustrating," he said. "Like I said, I'm an electrician and they're taking all my tools too."

Stories like his are becoming commonplace in Fresno and it's often the same criminals behind the wheel.

For example, police say Oudara Chounramany is a one-man crime wave. A judge sent him to prison Monday after multiple car theft convictions. But most accused car thieves don't go to prison. They go to the Fresno County jail and they often get out on early release.

Police say one suspect has been in and out at least eight times. "Could be like the next day," said Detective Dennis Zeuner. "He's been arrested one night and the next morning he's been found in another stolen car. It's within hours sometimes."

Detectives say early releases are drastically driving up their auto theft numbers.

Last year at this time, Fresno police had worked 1912 auto theft cases. This year, the number's up to 2313, a 21% increase.

Police are not optimistic about keeping the thieves in jail, but they're putting pressure on suspects with probation searches and chop shop busts.

Car owners like Dominguez are also taking steps to protect themselves. "I got The Club, an alarm, and it's got a killswitch too," he said.

Dominguez says he bought his car for $700. He's paid more than $1000 more for the security to make sure nobody steals it again.

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