‘This is not my skill set’ Business owner tracks down stolen van as police battle huge spike in car thefts

Police across the St. Louis region are battling a spike in car thefts.
Published: Jun. 11, 2023 at 10:29 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Police across the St. Louis region are battling a spike in car thefts. In St. Louis City, the latest data from police show they are averaging around 17 vehicle thefts a day.

Preston Walker, who owns Eat Here STL, a local distributing company connecting farmers and local restaurants, is one of the latest victims.

“Pretty much panic, it’s never happened to me as a business owner or as a resident. June is our busiest month, so of all the times for this to happen this is just a nightmare,” said Walker.

His refrigerated van was stolen off their gated lot on the 5000 block of Manchester Road on May 29.

According to SLMPD, so far this year, there have been 2,773 vehicles reported stolen, compared to 1,640 the same time last year.

They reported it to police but an observant employee soon spotted the stolen van a week later on Arkansas Avenue in Tower Grove South.

They called police, who matched the VIN number and turned it back over to Walker. But he says investigators didn’t collect finger prints or other evidence and the back of the van was filled with other things including a bike, guitar and scrap metal.

“The police helped us get it back but there wasn’t a lot of investigation that went on there, I wasn’t really investigating anything I was just trying to clean it out and the cab was like full of candy wrappers which was very strange but I found a receipt from Dollar Tree,” said Walker.

Walker went to the Dollar Tree and an employee looked up the surveillance video that matched the receipt and they got footage of the two individuals who drove up in the van and purchased the candy. Walker turned the information over to police but so far no arrests.

News4 reached out to police about this case and spokesperson Sgt. Charles Wall said he couldn’t comment on this case but said this about how stolen vehicles are processed.

“We do prioritize the processing of recovered vehicles depending on the circumstances surrounding the theft. A vehicle taken in a robbery or carjacking would be prioritized over a vehicle that was stolen overnight while parked. Additionally, weather may play a factor as rain may contaminate the outside of a vehicle and interior surfaces may not be suitable for processing fingerprints. In some instances, owners decide they do not wish to wait for a technician to respond, if they are not immediately able to do so,” Sgt. Wall said.

Walker says his vehicle was locked but he warns others to do the same, and take extra precautions, including adding a club and something like an Airtag to track the vehicle if it’s stolen.

Stolen cars are not just a problem in the city, but a problem facing the entire St. Louis region.