Tow truck operator charged with stealing vehicles on St. Louis highways

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by Maggie Crane / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on July 27, 2012 at 2:01 PM

Updated Saturday, Jul 28 at 8:50 AM

ST. LOUIS (KMOV) – A tow truck driver is behind bars, accused of stealing disabled cars left on St. Louis highways.

St. Louis Metropolitan Police learned what he was doing and set up a sting to catch the tow truck driver in action.

Police put two of their department-owned cars along Interstate 55 and waited to catch the thief. They did, but they don't think he's working alone.

Drive down the interstate and you are bound to see disabled cars along the shoulder. Charnese Anderson thought her car was realtively safe there when she broke down along I-44.

"It was only a couple of hours and the two truck man was on his way," Charnese explained.

But in that time, police say a man stole her car in broad daylight by working as a tow truck driver.  Charnese found out when the real tow operator called her.

"[He said] 'did you call someone else to tow the truck, because I was on my way and I saw someone picking it up,'" Charnese said. "That's when we found out it was stolen.  And it was a fake tow truck man."

Police call it a new trend in St. Louis. They set up a bait car to catch the culprits, and Tyrone Bunton allegedly drove right into it.  Police say they watched as he pulled up in a van and loaded their bait car onto a trailer before driving away.  Police admit, it's a tough crime to catch.

"One would think that someone's just getting their car off the highway because it's a dangerous place to leave it," St. Louis Metropolitan Police Lt. Joe Morici said. "So no one is suspecting when any tow truck pulls up to tow a car off the highway."

So far, police have linked Bunton, 44, to three car thefts over the past month.

"I think [he's part of] a group of individuals who may be working together, possibly," Lt. Morici said.

Police recovered their bait car, which belonged to a Police Board Commissioner. Charnese and another driver never got their cars back.

"Probably the scrap yard, I would imagine," Lt. Morici said about the probable whereabouts of those vehicles. "I think [the criminals are] possibly bringing them to a scrap yard, scrapping them for money."

Police believe Bunton might be an independent contractor for a tow company but won't say which.

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