BRANDON, S.D. (KELO) — Sioux Falls police have already investigated more than 60 vehicle thefts this year, and we’re not even done with the month yet.
What’s all the more troubling, is that the number of cases is only slightly above average. Sioux Empire Crime Stoppers has posted the stolen vehicles as its crime of the week, not so much because it’s an unusually high number, but rather to raise the public’s awareness about the importance of not leaving the keys inside your car.
The thefts occur in both residential neighborhoods and commercial areas, including a Brandon restaurant.
A delivery van vanished in a matter of minutes while parked in front of the Brandon Pizza Ranch during last Friday night’s blizzard.
“In those moments when you’ve got a car running for two or three minutes while you’re swapping out your empty bags for full ones, it just kind of happened,” Pizza Ranch General Manager Preston Plautz said.
General Manager Preston Plautz drove through the snow in search of the missing van. The Pizza Ranch even offered free buffets to anyone who could provide tips that would lead them to the stolen vehicle.
“We got, I would say, a handful, probably about 5 or 6 from people along that path that the car took where it caught them on cameras between that time,” Plautz said.
It turns out, the thief didn’t get very far. A Brandon city employee found the van stuck in the snow a couple days later in Pioneer Park, just a few blocks away. And the van wasn’t damaged at all.
“We were able to find it in one piece, they had the decency to shut it off, we had just filled it up with gas so, we didn’t blow through an entire tank of gas just running all night long,” Plautz said.
In many cases, stolen vehicles are recovered.
“Everybody thinks of the TV or the movies where it’s stolen and then it gets chopped-up and sold for parts and that rarely happens. What we find in Sioux Falls is if somebody steals a car, especially if there’s keys in it, they’ll kind of drive it like its theirs for a few days and then just dump it off someplace,” Sam Clemens of the Sioux Falls Police Department said.
The Pizza Ranch is reminding its drivers to shut off the delivery vans and remove the keys. Plautz says the community’s concern over the missing van restored his faith in the goodness of others.
“People just kept trying to get it out, hey, let’s help Pizza Ranch find their car, so it was really cool,” Plautz said.
Because of that strong community support, the Pizza Ranch is donating meals for kids in the Brandon School District’s backpack program. They’re also giving free buffets to the Brandon city worker who found the van.
Sioux Falls police say they recover a lot of stolen vehicles during snow alerts, when officers are ticketing parked vehicles in the way of snow plows.