Increase in truck thefts linked to border trafficking

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Trucks surround Jovan Price as she texts from North Congress Avenue Thursday afternoon. ADP advises increased safeguards to avoid vehicle theft.

Photo Credit: Andreina Velazquez | Daily Texan Staff

Austin Police officials are urging large truck owners to take extra safety precautions due to an increase in thefts since Jan. 1.

Austin police detective Brent Mullinix said 70 trucks have been stolen in Austin in 2012, compared to 25 thefts at the same time last year. Mullinix said almost all the trucks have been discovered by the U.S. Border Patrol near the Mexican border. Thieves are targeting trucks to smuggle weapons, drugs and people across the border, he said.

“The trucks are found north of the border patrol checkpoints,” Mullinix said. “Immigrants will come across the border and travel through brush and wilderness for a couple of days until they meet a truck that will take them, or whatever they are smuggling, up into Austin or somewhere north.”

Mullinix said there have been no thefts in West Campus because thieves usually target areas with large parking lots, such as malls and hospitals between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. when many people are running errands. Trucks are particularly at risk in these parking lots because they usually park far from the entrance for parking ease, he said.

“Just go to the mall in the afternoon when people are out getting lunch and shopping and you will see trucks everywhere, so the thieves can run rampant,” Mullinix said. “There haven’t been thefts directly by UT, but this definitely affects students because they drive their trucks to the mall and other places around town where the thefts have taken place.”

Mullinix said thieves remove all of the seats in the truck except the driver’s seat in order to fit a maximum amount of smuggled material into the vehicle. The truck cannot usually be returned to the owner once found because the interior, exterior and engine are usually destroyed by the time the border patrol retrieves it.

“The thieves’ strategy, once found by the border patrol, is to just drive the truck through the brush until the truck dies, runs out of gas or wrecks,” Mullinix said. “They try to get as close to Mexico as possible and when the truck stops they all jump out and scatter for the border.”

Tyrel Hullum, community manager of University Towers apartments located in West Campus, said there have not been any vehicles stolen in their parking garage this school year because management has taken necessary safety precautions.

“We always tell our residents to lock their doors, take their keys and take their valuable belongings,” Hullum said. “We are planning to install cameras in our parking garage to ensure even more security.”

Some students, like biology senior Michael Wells, said they feel their vehicles are safe enough to not require them to take extra safety measures.

Wells said he owns a 1999 Ford pickup truck and does not have a security system because he never felt he needed one.

“I just always the lock the doors,” Wells said. “That is my security system. I guess with trucks becoming more of a target I should look into becoming more secure. It’s sad that locks aren’t enough anymore.”

Printed on Friday, February 24, 2012 as: Truck theft increases linked to Texas border trafficking