Stolen vehicle trends in Garfield County fueled by joy rides

A 1997 Accord that might have been stolen using a “shaved” key, according to the Rifle Police Department. A key that did not belong to the owner was stuck in the ignition. Honda Accords from the 1990s were constantly at the top of the list for make and model of vehicles most frequently stolen. This car was reported stolen from Grand Junction.
Submitted / RPD Chief Tommy Klein

Reports of stolen vehicles continue to rise in Garfield County, according to data provided by local law enforcement agencies.

“They’ve had a lot of stolen vehicles in the last year,” Garfield County Sheriff’s Office Records Manager Kiyvone Nye said.

Between Jan. 1, 2020, and today, Garfield County Sheriff’s Office data show 45 cases of motor vehicle theft: 34 cases were reported stolen within the jurisdiction, while 11 vehicles stolen elsewhere were recovered here.

In 2018, the sheriff’s office covered 25 cases of motor vehicle theft. In 2019, even less: just 16.

When it comes to stealing wheels within city limits, Garfield County’s largest cities — Glenwood Springs and Rifle — are also seeing upward trends.

Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein said the city logged eight reports of motor vehicle theft in June 2020. In June 2021, the city has logged 17 cases of motor vehicle theft.

That’s a 113% increase in one year. All but four vehicles, however, have already been recovered, Klein said.

“Some of that has to do with cars being unlocked with keys left inside the vehicle,” he said. “And, on occasion for an older car, we’ll see an ignition that gets compromised, or gets ‘punched,’ as the lingo goes.”

More often than not, however, violators exploit unlocked doors for the simple goal of getting from point A to point B. The last Rifle chop shop case he covered was in 2017, Klein remembered.

Otherwise, suspects are usually acting alone, despite first-degree aggravated motor vehicle theft in Colorado being a Class-5 Felony, an offense that can carry a sentence of up to 12 years in prison.

“In these cases, it’s often a person who’s associated with that world — with the drug trade somehow,” Klein said. “Whether they’re users or dealers, it just depends. But, normally, people who steal cars are involved in ancillary crimes.”

Glenwood Springs, however, has so far seen just a slight increase in stolen vehicles. In June 2020, the department tallied 14 motor vehicle theft cases.

Through June 2021 it’s up to 16.

“We’re pretty even from last year,” said Glenwood Springs Police Officer Mike Young. “It’s nothing crazy so far this year, but it’s only June.”

Young also said most cases lack criminal coordination.

“We’ve made five arrests, and we have two warrants out of the 16 we’ve had,” He said. “… It’s not like an organized group of people chopping these vehicles up.”

But there are cases far and few in between that suggest a suspect was motivated by financial profit.

In June 2020, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office recovered a Ford Ranger originally stolen out of Rawlins, Wyoming. A Bureau of Land Management ranger first came across the vehicle stuck down a small gully in the Hubbard Mesa area just outside of Rifle, records show.

The interior of a stolen truck recovered in Rifle in February of 2021, according to the Rifle Police Department. The ignition is noticeably “punched,” a term used to described an ignition compromised due to an attempted motor vehicle theft. It was reported stolen from Grand Junction.
Submitted / RPD Chief Tommy Klein

When it was found, a deputy noticed something wedged on the gas pedal to make it drive down the gully. In the meantime, the vehicle’s wheels, alternator, air conditioning compressor and fuel pump, among other parts, were all missing.

Any chance of identifying DNA or fingerprints dissolved through the built-up dirt and muck. It “had appeared to be there for some time,” records state.

“It’s very difficult to set up, let’s say, a sting operation for something like this because it is a crime of opportunity and it happens in various locations within the city,” Klein said. “You could put out a car and wait months and months and not have a suspect try to steal a car.”

Another vehicle owner, however, was a bit luckier.

In September 2020, a Silt man came home from a party one night only to discover his 2000 Dodge Ram 1500 gone. After eventually reporting it stolen, the truck would be discovered undamaged and unoccupied by the Marshall’s Office a day later at a De Beque Park and Ride.

“I think it’s a crime of opportunity for some of these knuckleheads that they just need a ride back to Rifle or Parachute, and they wander around or they find a car running and unlocked, and they get in and drive home,” Young said. “And then they park it near their house and walk the rest of the way.”

With no suspect yet identified, the only decent lead to emerge came from the owner noticing the driver’s side seat and rearview mirrors adjusted to likely fit the comfort of a smaller, shorter joyrider. This discovery came after the owner retrieved it from De Beque.

Usually, it’s older vehicles too: Cars, trucks, SUVs and vans that typically predate keyless ignitions and modern computer systems are more likely to be taken.

“Unfortunately, with I-70 running right through the heart of us, it’s kind of one of the easiest things to get onto and disappear with a car,” Young said. “I mean, they know with (Colorado Highway 82) meeting (I-70) that you can come and go pretty easy and get out of here fast.”

Garfield County

2018: 25

2019: 16

Jan. 1, 2020 to June 2021: 45


June 2020: 6

June 2021: 17

Glenwood Springs

June 2020: 14

June 2021: 16

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or

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