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Catalytic converter thief pinned under car in Mission Valley

Value of platinum pushes Calif. incidents over 8,000 so far this year

San Diego police inspecting Hyundai at Mission Heights complex
San Diego police inspecting Hyundai at Mission Heights complex

On August 15, before 6:30 a.m. Cindy Morton said she heard a man screaming "help, help, help" from the tandem parking spots underneath their Mission Heights apartment complex in Mission Valley.

"I ran down, came out here, and found the man underneath the car," Morton explained to the OnSceneTV cameraman. "He was trapped, [then] he said he can't breathe, 'lift the car' -- so I called 911." Minutes after, the San Diego Police Department pulled up, followed by San Diego Fire-Rescue Department personnel. "They said they thought he was stealing the [catalytic] converter from underneath the car."

Justin Goen in Escondido welding a catalytic-converter pipe

Based on the raw video footage, the unidentified man used a Milwaukee Hackzall reciprocating saw to hack through a Hyundai Accent's catalytic converter pipe. He cut through the portion of the tube that leads to the mufflers on the rear of the late model grey-colored hatchback. However, it is unclear if the perp sawed off the front of the catalytic converter pipe that leads to the engine's exhaust manifold before the floor jack gave out and the 2500+ pounds vehicle collapsed on him. Fire and rescue pulled the man out and carried him away on a stretcher. He was conscious in the video.

Catalytic converters confiscated by Escondido police

"It's not surprising," Mortan added, "it happens all the time...."

California leads in the number of catalytic-converter-theft reports throughout the U.S. Per BeenVerified.com:, the state already had 8031 cat thefts from January to June 20 of 2021, surpassing the 6021 thefts throughout 2020 and 1,254 thefts in 2019.

Last month and about 25 miles north of the Mission Valley attempted-cat theft, the Escondido Police Department arrested three individuals with "eight catalytic converters, burglary tools, and other evidence" inside the getaway vehicle. Then a week or so prior, "I was just at Harbor Freight in Escondido, and apparently two guys and a black C-Class Mercedes came up and stole my catalytic converter .... right in the middle of the parking lot!" said a Honda Element driver on our shared-neighborhood-online network. "It took just a matter of seconds. I drove home sounding [like] a old lady with a midlife crisis driving a street racer. Apparently, there's platinum in catalytic converters, which will bring probably about $500."

There's also palladium or rhodium, "precious metals that have seen their value skyrocket over the past two years," says the BeenVerified site. "The theft of a catalytic converter can be done in minutes by culprits, who then resell to recyclers for between $50 and $250 per part." The most popular cars by make and model targeted by catalytic converter thieves in 2020 were the Honda Element, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Tacoma, Honda Accord, and Toyota Prius.

"The first thing you notice when you start the car with a missing cat is the loud exhaust sound," Justin Goen explained to me in an interview, "then you will have a check engine light from the missing oxygen sensor, followed by a raw fuel or exhaust smell." Goen's 2005 Toyota Prius was "cat-jacked" two years ago, a few miles south of Escondido.

"Stealing a cat from a single mom or a struggling family is like taking food out of their kids' mouths and forcing major life changes for them -- just for a quick buck. Many times these cars get totaled out after the cat gets stolen, and this is harmful to the mid- to lower-income families."

Goen speaks from experience. To fix his 2005 Prius, a used Toyota catalytic converter, cost about $900 on eBay plus about $40 shipping. Fortunately for him and his family, he can install and weld the replacement back underneath their Prius. Goen is a mechanic by trade who advises similar victims at his auto shop.

What can we do to protect catalytic converters? "Cover plates/shields that make access to the catalytic converter more time consuming and painting the cat in a bright color with high-temperature paint. If you have a high-dollar cat, remove it and install a low-cost aftermarket unit; the thief will only get a fraction of the price. I would also consider welding on rebar or other thick metal along the pipes to increase noise and time spent cutting."

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San Diego police inspecting Hyundai at Mission Heights complex
San Diego police inspecting Hyundai at Mission Heights complex

On August 15, before 6:30 a.m. Cindy Morton said she heard a man screaming "help, help, help" from the tandem parking spots underneath their Mission Heights apartment complex in Mission Valley.

"I ran down, came out here, and found the man underneath the car," Morton explained to the OnSceneTV cameraman. "He was trapped, [then] he said he can't breathe, 'lift the car' -- so I called 911." Minutes after, the San Diego Police Department pulled up, followed by San Diego Fire-Rescue Department personnel. "They said they thought he was stealing the [catalytic] converter from underneath the car."

Justin Goen in Escondido welding a catalytic-converter pipe

Based on the raw video footage, the unidentified man used a Milwaukee Hackzall reciprocating saw to hack through a Hyundai Accent's catalytic converter pipe. He cut through the portion of the tube that leads to the mufflers on the rear of the late model grey-colored hatchback. However, it is unclear if the perp sawed off the front of the catalytic converter pipe that leads to the engine's exhaust manifold before the floor jack gave out and the 2500+ pounds vehicle collapsed on him. Fire and rescue pulled the man out and carried him away on a stretcher. He was conscious in the video.

Catalytic converters confiscated by Escondido police

"It's not surprising," Mortan added, "it happens all the time...."

California leads in the number of catalytic-converter-theft reports throughout the U.S. Per BeenVerified.com:, the state already had 8031 cat thefts from January to June 20 of 2021, surpassing the 6021 thefts throughout 2020 and 1,254 thefts in 2019.

Last month and about 25 miles north of the Mission Valley attempted-cat theft, the Escondido Police Department arrested three individuals with "eight catalytic converters, burglary tools, and other evidence" inside the getaway vehicle. Then a week or so prior, "I was just at Harbor Freight in Escondido, and apparently two guys and a black C-Class Mercedes came up and stole my catalytic converter .... right in the middle of the parking lot!" said a Honda Element driver on our shared-neighborhood-online network. "It took just a matter of seconds. I drove home sounding [like] a old lady with a midlife crisis driving a street racer. Apparently, there's platinum in catalytic converters, which will bring probably about $500."

There's also palladium or rhodium, "precious metals that have seen their value skyrocket over the past two years," says the BeenVerified site. "The theft of a catalytic converter can be done in minutes by culprits, who then resell to recyclers for between $50 and $250 per part." The most popular cars by make and model targeted by catalytic converter thieves in 2020 were the Honda Element, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Tacoma, Honda Accord, and Toyota Prius.

"The first thing you notice when you start the car with a missing cat is the loud exhaust sound," Justin Goen explained to me in an interview, "then you will have a check engine light from the missing oxygen sensor, followed by a raw fuel or exhaust smell." Goen's 2005 Toyota Prius was "cat-jacked" two years ago, a few miles south of Escondido.

"Stealing a cat from a single mom or a struggling family is like taking food out of their kids' mouths and forcing major life changes for them -- just for a quick buck. Many times these cars get totaled out after the cat gets stolen, and this is harmful to the mid- to lower-income families."

Goen speaks from experience. To fix his 2005 Prius, a used Toyota catalytic converter, cost about $900 on eBay plus about $40 shipping. Fortunately for him and his family, he can install and weld the replacement back underneath their Prius. Goen is a mechanic by trade who advises similar victims at his auto shop.

What can we do to protect catalytic converters? "Cover plates/shields that make access to the catalytic converter more time consuming and painting the cat in a bright color with high-temperature paint. If you have a high-dollar cat, remove it and install a low-cost aftermarket unit; the thief will only get a fraction of the price. I would also consider welding on rebar or other thick metal along the pipes to increase noise and time spent cutting."

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