MERIDEN — News of more than 40 smash-and-grab thefts from cars in Meriden and Wallingford early Friday had a distressing ring of familiarity to Janine Brancale.
The co-owner of Star Auto Sales, and several other auto dealerships on South Broad Street, say they have have struggled with a different form of the same crime, car burglaries, but something more sophisticated. As with the 40 break-ins, the thieves working South Broad Street start after dark, but they are using jacks, cutting tools, tire wrenches and milk crates to steal tires, rims and catalytic converters, Brancale and other dealers said.
Thefts from parked vehicles is a chronic petty crime that usually stays off the public's radar. But it got explosive in Newington overnight last Tuesday: More than 100 vehicle burglaries occurred in large parking lots at businesses and condominium complexes.
Suspecting that their city was next, Meriden police did extra patrols on Thursday night. They said they saw two men breaking into cars on Charles Street before the pair escaped onto Interstate 91.
Reports of Meriden's 40 smash-and-grabs started coming shortly thereafter. The first crime that was reported, at about 5:30 a.m., occurred at Hawthorne Suites by Wyndham on East Main Street. Thirty-three more reports of thefts followed, police said.
At least one of the Wallingford thefts resembled those described by Brancale. A car owner at Fairfield Inn, 100 Miles Drive, Wallingford, reported his vehicle was propped up on plastic crates with the wheels missing, Wallingford police Lt. Cheryl Bradley said.
The front passenger side window was smashed and the suspect used the wheel lock that was in the glove box to remove the wheels, she noted.
The South Broad Street crimes have been discovered the same way. Dealership workers starting their day with a frustrating discovery: Vehicles standing not on their tires but on busted brakes and milk crates because the thieves had removed the wheels and converters.
Located at 333 S. Broad St., Star Auto had 11 such thefts since July 2019, Brancale said, with most occurring within the last two or three months. Jazzi Auto, 279 S. Broad St., had one such theft, four wheels taken off a 2018 Honda Accord in early November, Jazzi Auto General Manager Ashley Guzman said.
"It is a lot of young kids stealing cars...to make money," Guzman said. "They sell the wheels on the street and make an easy profit off of it."
One of the lots at Star Auto is not lit at night, but Brancale said she doubts that she is being targeted because of it.
“We have never experienced this much theft in the 14 years we have been here. The criminals have been bold; stealing tires and wheels, out in the open. One vehicle was parked 3 feet off of S. Broad Street under a street light,” Brancale said in a Facebook posting.
“I want people to know that there is a crime problem in South Broad Street,” Brancale added. “If you see activity late at night on a dealer’s lot, please call the police immediately.”
Meriden police statistics don't show any great trend of auto parts thefts or many other calls for police service from the dealerships on South Broad Street, but besides Guzman, two other dealerships in the area said they had been hit by such thefts. Workers at the dealerships declined to comment further.
Brancale estimated that her business has lost $42,000 to the burglaries. The thieves target expensive items. A tire rim can cost $500. The burglaries also cost dealership workers time, as they have to repair the damaged vehicles. She said police should patrol South Broad Street more, to stop the crimes.
"I don't expect that they are going to recover my stolen goods," she said. "It's more about prevention."