APD: Auto theft reports rising in West Campus

Kali McFarland and Austin Beard (Courtesy/Kali McFarland)
Kali McFarland and Austin Beard (Courtesy/Kali McFarland)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Concerns continue about an uptick of recent reports of auto theft in the West Campus area. A young Austin couple is the latest victim of that increasing trend.

Kali McFarland, 20, and her boyfriend Austin Beard, 24, were moving to Oregon this weekend to begin a new chapter of their life together, complete with new jobs. The couple sold most of their large possessions, like furniture, and packed the rest of their belongings in McFarland’s 1999 tan Toyota Corolla.

On Sunday, on their way out of Austin, before beginning the long drive to their new home, the couple stopped to say goodbye to McFarland’s family.

Stolen Tan Toyota Corolla (Courtesy/Kali McFarland)
Stolen Tan Toyota Corolla (Courtesy/Kali McFarland)

“I just parked my car and we ran upstairs to tell my sisters goodbye,” explained McFarland. “Fifteen minutes later when we came back down all ready to go, the car was gone.” The vehicle had been stolen.

Austin police confirm it happened in the 2800 block of Rio Grande Street. It was reported Sunday, Jan. 22 at 12:51 p.m.

“We had everything in the car,” the couple said. “It was just full of stuff. Our car was packed; the backseat and the trunk, and everything. So, I’m just assuming maybe the person saw it and was like, ‘hey, I can take some of this stuff.'”

The couple is trying to stay positive. “It’s been a little stressful, waiting for anybody to call us with information. We’re just trying to rebuild and like figure things out, day by day,” said Beard.

“It’s an inconvenience more than anything else. My sister loaned me some clothes,” added McFarland.

She says it’s not about dealing with the financial loss.

“Most of the stuff, like my computer or my phone or whatever, I don’t really care about. Or like, what cash we lost,” said McFarland. “We had a lot of like sentimental things in the car, too. I had journals that I’d kept like my whole life, and we had journals that we kept together for our whole relationship. I had some art, and just things like that are the only things that I’d really want to get back. Everything else is stuff.”

Austin police say what usually starts as a vehicle break-in when a crook spots valuables inside a car then checks the door handle or breaks a window to access those valuables, can quickly become an auto theft. This happens more and more since people are leaving their car doors unlocked or leaving a spare car key inside their vehicle for a crook to find.

“Car is not only burglarized, but now stolen. Car burglar becomes car thief, and the whole thing took less than a minute. In some cases, less than 30 seconds,” said Austin police Sgt. Kelly Davenport.

The reason behind the recent rise?

“Generally, upticks in auto thefts in this area are related to vulnerability increases,” said Sgt. Davenport. “In the recent cases in the area, it appears the victims left car keys, or a spare key, in the car that was stolen. Typically, there may have also been something of value left inside the car within plain view to anyone walking by or looking in the windows.”

McFarland’s car was unlocked and a spare key was also inside. “Almost every time I lock the car, but I just wanted to hurry upstairs and say goodbye.”

She’s trying to figure out what to do next. “We’re just kind of taking it day by day and just going with the flow,” she said.

APD told KXAN that nearly 70 percent of all of the city’s reported auto thefts would not have occurred but for the fact that a spare car key was left inside the vehicle, or a victim left a vehicle unattended, even with the engine running.

Police say Austin’s auto thefts would drop significantly if people took their valuable items with them when parking their vehicles, if they hid any valuable items (other than car keys) that they were forced to leave inside their vehicle, and if they kept all car keys with them.

Family members of McFarland have set up a GoFundMe page to help the couple get back on their feet. If you’re interested in donating, click here.

The Austin Police Department asks residents to follow several safety tips:

  • Always lock your car, even when it is parked in your driveway.
  • Do not leave anything valuable in plain view in your vehicle.
  • Never leave garage door openers or other personal keys inside your vehicle.
  • Never leave your vehicle running and unattended.

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