County sees 41% increase in stolen cars this year
Some residents raise concerns over burned cars off Piihana Road
WAILUKU — When Jennifer Driggers’ car was stolen from the parking lot outside her apartment in Wailuku, she called police, then did her own investigation.
That eventually led her to Piihana Road in Wailuku, where a car was reported to have burned. She asked if anyone had seen her car, then left. Three minutes later, she got a call to return to the area and someone there handed her the burned license plate from her black 2017 Chevy Malibu SS.
The car, valued at $55,000, was found burned in the Piihana Farms area, she said. A chain was around the car, which had its trunk and hood missing and three catalytic converters cut off.
“I just don’t understand why this happened to me,” said Driggers, who was going to work at 6:30 a.m. June 2 when she discovered her car had been stolen. It was found the same day.
“Why is it the bad guys don’t have to suffer, but the good people do, the people that work for a living to pay for what’s theirs. I know it’s happening all over, but when it happens to you, it really hits a nail.”
Through July 28, police said 511 vehicles were reported stolen in Maui County this year, for a nearly 41 percent increase compared with the 363 vehicles stolen during the same period last year.
Kihei resident T.J. Prentice said his 2019 Ford F-250 Super Duty truck was stolen from the carport of his house while he and his wife were sleeping in the early-morning hours of May 29. Their surveillance video showed a man going into the truck, starting it and driving away.
His wife posted information about the theft on social media and talked to people who reported seeing the truck. After searching Upcountry, Prentice was driving past Queen Ka’ahumanu Center and “about to give up” when his wife called to say the truck was spotted a minute earlier at the Shell station on Waiehu Beach Road.
When he got there and saw the truck, Prentice called 911 and used his wife’s car to pin the truck in. He said a police officer arrived quickly, followed soon after by two others. The 31-year-old man who had stolen the truck was passed out in the passenger seat, Prentice said, and a methamphetamine pipe and syringe were found in the vehicle.
The man was arrested but posted bail the same day.
The solid steel base plate under the truck had been removed and its muffler was cut on the bottom, Prentice said. Because the truck is diesel, “there’s no valuable metals in there,” he said.
The $84,000 truck is still being repaired, with damage estimated at $16,000 so far, Prentice said. He has rented a truck to use for his business, Pacific Greens Turf.
While all his tools were in the truck, insurance won’t cover the loss of a Yeti backpack and drone he used for work, Prentice said.
“It jeopardizes my employees making money,” he said.
A resident of a Maalaea condominium complex, who asked not to be identified because he fears retaliation, said his silver 2014 Toyota Tacoma truck with surf racks was stolen from the parking lot the night of July 19 or early morning of July 20. “It was in pristine condition,” he said.
When he called police, “they basically told me there’s nothing we can do,” the resident said. He recalled one officer saying, “Go check Piihana Farms.”
The resident still hasn’t gotten back his truck, which he estimated would cost $10,000 to $15,000 to replace.
At the same complex, tourists who had rented a Jeep woke up at 3 in the morning July 25 to go to Haleakala, only to find the Jeep gone from the parking lot, the resident said.
In nearly one year that he has lived at the complex, he said at least two catalytic converters have been stolen and there have been a dozen cases of gas theft. “There’s an epidemic down here,” he said.
When Driggers again called police after getting her burned license plate the afternoon of June 2, officers arrived and a crowd gathered around the Wili Pa Loop area in Wailuku. She saw three boys walking by and recognized them from social media posts showing them in her neighbor’s car, which was stolen the same morning from the same parking lot as hers.
When police approached the boys, she called out to one, “Why did you take my car? Why did you do this to me?”
The boy responded, “I’m sorry. It’s all messed up. I didn’t burn it,” Driggers said.
She said the boy was handcuffed but wasn’t arrested. An officer later told her the teenager was admitting to taking the car belonging to her neighbor, who declined prosecution after the car was returned undamaged.
Asked about Driggers’ stolen car case, Maui police spokeswoman Alana Pico said, “At this time, no arrests were made, as the suspected offenders are juveniles.”
“Currently, the investigation is ongoing as potentially there are other cases linked, and once completed will be forwarded to Family Court,” Pico said.
Asked for more information about the suspects and the linked cases, Pico said “there are several suspected offenders” ranging in age from 16 to 17.
“Other cases are still actively being investigated for various offenses,” she said by email.
As for reports that stolen cars are being burned in the Piihana area, Pico said: “Unfortunately, fires in the Piihana area are not uncommon and cannot be directly linked to stolen vehicles but are being investigated.”
On the afternoon of July 24, the Fire Department responded to a 2-acre fire off Piihana Road that burned an area of brush containing abandoned vehicles and trash.
Photos from the fire showed vehicles grouped in one area, which some said wasn’t the case a few weeks ago.
“I don’t understand it,” Driggers said. “Why are they not doing anything about it? There’s burned cars everywhere.”
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.