Police, residents and wrecker services react to major uptick in Port Arthur car thefts

Published 12:20 am Friday, September 15, 2023

In less than eight minutes, a juvenile with a few simple tools can steal a car and be on the road.

Allen Valka, owner of Opie’s Towing and Transport, is working to spread awareness of the recent trend in car thefts. As a wrecker driver, he has picked up the damaged vehicles and noticed trends.

The cars, typically from makers Kia and Hyundai, are being stolen between 1 to 5:30 a.m. — when the owners are asleep.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

And the cars he picked up have some sort of tag on them, whether it is an X on the doors or a piece of duct tape on the window. He believes the thieves are marking the vehicles for later theft.

The thieves are also damaging the vehicles. A neighbor had her vehicle stolen, and the repair cost $7,000, Valka said.

Allen Valka, owner of Opie’s Towing and Transport, shines light on crimes. (Courtesy photo)

Then there’s the issue of what is being stolen along with the vehicle. Firearms are sometimes left in vehicles and end up in the hands of criminals.

On Thursday, a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro was stolen from Port Arthur, but luckily the car is equipped with GPS and police are searching for it, Valka said.

The night before that a Ford truck was stolen — the list goes on.

Valka advises the public to be aware of their surroundings and call police if they see something suspicious.

Jody Holton, president of Concern Citizens of Griffing Park, said this is the worst she has seen car thefts.

“I have been cautioning residents to, of course, empty their cars of valuables and firearms and lock them,” Holton said. “Park in a garage, if possible. If not, at least park a vehicle behind them so the car can’t be moved.”

She also suggests residents get a camera aimed at their driveway.

The top stolen vehicles from Kia, Hyundai and Ford, she said.

The recent rash of stolen vehicles may be tied to six juveniles who were arrested and released last week.

Port Arthur Police Chief Tim Duriso said more than 15 Kia and Hyundai vehicles have been stolen in the last month, adding detectives believe the same juveniles are involved who were arrested Sept. 3 and 4.

The juveniles range in age from 14 to 16 and are from Port Arthur.

Five minors were arrested Sept. 3 and sent to Minnie Rogers Juvenile Justice Center. A sixth minor was arrested the following day on a vehicle theft charge.

Police were tipped off to the original crimes when someone tried to steal a Ring door camera at Park Central Apartments.

Duriso said a hammer and a screwdriver were found with the youth, as well as evidence from one of the vehicles that was stolen.

Police located the juveniles and two stolen Hyundai vehicles at the apartment complex.

The juveniles are likely using a method of stealing vehicles seen on social media, police said, taking the vehicles and joyriding in them before abandoning them.

One local woman’s vehicle was stolen twice from Port Arthur’s Griffing Park. The car was found later in a different part of town.

Duriso said the juveniles were likely released since their crimes were not violent.

Duriso suggested motorists place wheel locks on their vehicles.

There is also the old adage, if you see something say something, he said. Police are looking for videos of the crimes.

People with information about this crime can call the Port Arthur Police Department at 409-983-8600 or Crime Stoppers of Southeast Texas at 409-833-TIPS.

Sgt. Ken Karr with the Southeast Texas Auto Theft Task Force said the trend in car thefts is nationwide but also seen locally.

The Task Force is giving out steering wheel locks at its office, 2430 West Cardinal Drive, Suite C in Beaumont. The wheel lock is for Hyundai and Kia owners.