AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thieves are making off with a common vehicle from a popular parking lot at Lady Bird Lake, and the Austin Police Department is warning drivers to change their habits.
It’s happening near the pedestrian bridge that takes trail-users across the lake under the Mopac Expressway, around the time the area is crowded with people just getting off work.
In the last six months, five Ford trucks — F-150s and F-250s — have been stolen from the parking lot there. Four of those happened just since December. In three of the cases, the victims also left wallets, phones and other valuables inside.
Police believe thieves are targeting those trucks because they know runners like to leave their belongings — including their keys — locked inside and use the keypad on the door to unlock it.
Mac Sauls is one of them. He brings his F-150 to the trails almost every day, he said, and Monday he brought his dog, Lucille, for a quick jog.
“I’ve got the automatic lock here,” he said, pointing to the keypad on his driver side door, “so I do leave my keys in there. I’ve got them hid underneath, and I just use this to get back in.”
Thieves know that’s pretty common among runners who drive cars with keypads, and APD believes they’re targeting those drivers when the trails are busy. All five of the thefts happened between 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., “and all five of them had the keys left in the car,” said Natalia Lee, APD’s neighborhood liaison for the auto theft unit.
But how are the thieves getting inside in the first place? Lee said they don’t have any evidence they’re using devices to bypass the keypad. “They could be jimmying them,” she said. “They could be watching people punch in their key codes and sort of remembering where their fingers go.”
Any car with a keypad could be at risk to those thieves, but Lee believes Ford trucks are disappearing specifically because they’re popular and have good resale value. That vehicle is always on the list of top stolen cars in Austin.
In Texas, according to the latest figures from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which tracks car thefts nationwide, the 2006 Ford pickup was the most stolen car in the state in 2016, followed by the 2005 Chevy pickup and the 2004 Dodge pickup.
It’s time for drivers to shift their habits, Lee said. “I know when you go jogging, it’s a little inconvenient, but it’s time to bust out the fanny pack and take [your keys] with you.”
Given the time Sauls is usually on the trail, he said he usually feels comfortable locking his keys inside. “It’s going to be pretty obvious if somebody’s going to try to get in something,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot of cars this time of the day in the morning.”
But after talking to him about the numbers APD is seeing, he said he would have to rethink his security strategy.