String of wheel thefts targeting trucks at GO stations extends along Lakeshore West route
Police are investigating 21 incidents, including 15 where all 4 wheels were removed
For a split second, Darren Maarse thought it was some kind of sick, practical joke.
He had just hopped off the GO train at Clarkson station on his way home from work and was about to toss his bag into his truck when he noticed the black, 2014 GMC Denali was up on blocks — its tires and rims were gone.
"It's almost like your jaw drops. You're just in shock like, 'Oh, my God. Seriously?' It's just a terrible, heart-sinking feeling that somebody would do that to you," said the 46-year-old.
Maarse is one of almost two dozen commuters victimized by thieves targeting pickup trucks and SUVs at GO station parking lots along the Lakeshore West train route during recent months.
Metrolinx and police investigators say they've received reports of vehicle thefts for about a month now. Halton police alone are probing 21 incidents from a number of stations concerning attempted thefts and broken windows, which include 15 cases where all four wheels have been stolen and the trucks left sitting on cinder blocks.
Pictures and stories about wheel-less trucks and SUVs at other stations along the route started rolling in after CBC News reported a rash of thefts at the Aldershot GO station.
For Maarse, shock came first. Then came the anger.
"You start getting angry because you think of all the things you have to go through. 'How am I going to get my truck out of here? I've gotta call the police, I've gotta call GO security, I've gotta call my insurance company.'"
The majority of incidents happened at the Aldershot and Oakville stations, said Const. Ryan Anderson. Bronte and Burlington have also been hit.
"We think they're related and we believe we're looking for more than one suspect because of the nature of the thefts," he added.
'Like a race pit crew'
Anne Marie Aikins, senior manager of media for the transit agency, prefaced her comments by saying vehicle thefts happen at every public parking lot, including GO stations, but she said it's clear these thieves are looking for something very specific.
"They're looking for certain tires on trucks and their way of getting them is jacking the vehicle up on cinder blocks," she explained. "We know it's happened a few times at Aldershot and a few times along the Lakeshore West corridor."
Maarse's truck was targeted sometime on July 25 between 8 a.m. when he parked and 5 p.m. when he returned to find it without wheels.
He said he was struck by the fact the theft must have happened in broad daylight.
"I just imagine what they would pull up with probably some sort of van … they all hop out, they all work on a tire, someone jacks it up," he said. "It's probably like a race pit crew."
He posted a picture of the truck on social media and said his family and friends first responded with disbelief, but that quickly turned to shock and disgust.
Maarse, who works as an accountant, also sent his boss a photo and told him he wouldn't be in the next day because someone had stolen his wheels. His boss asked him if he was joking.
"People just don't believe those things happen," he said.
Multiple people share stories of thefts
But the number of people who have firsthand experience with wheel thefts is growing, thanks to the spree.
Jodi O'Mara said she arrived at Clarkson on Sept. 4 to find her beige pickup on blocks.
"I felt shock and violated that anyone could do this," she wrote in an email, adding when she contacted GO security around 7:30 p.m. she was told her call was the first report of the theft.
"I am always so surprised too that people walk by and it does not seem to be reported to any authority," O'Mara said.
Joe Robazza's experience at the Burlington GO station is an even more extreme example.
He said his 2003 GMC Sierra, which he inherited from his dad and held sentimental value, was first stolen from the station on July 22. In that case the truck was found a short way down the road, with some damage and a flat tire.
It took four weeks for the truck be repaired, but it was eventually like new. Robazza even used it on vacation, but just two days after he returned to work it was stolen from the station again. This time for good.
He bought a new, 2017 Sierra SLE Elevation, but said when he arrived back at the station Wednesday night the wheels were gone, the passenger door was damaged and the window was shattered.
Robazza said he couldn't believe it. While waiting for someone to come check out the damage he got a call. It was the tow truck driver asking where he was.
"We realized the tow drivers were at Burlington south next to another truck that had been broken into and not yet reported," he wrote in an email.
Ordeal cost about $10K
For Maarse the ordeal ended up costing his insurance company about $10,000. The damage went beyond just replacing the rims and tires. Resting the entire weight of the truck on cinder blocks meant the brake rotors and control arms were damaged.
After his experience, Maarse raised the question of security cameras with Metrolinx staff, but said he was told there were none in section of the lot where his wheels were taken.
He recognizes it's not reasonable to assume Metrolinx will have security patrolling every parking lot around the clock, but said he feels more should be done.
"I can't say I feel they're doing enough. How could this happen if they had visible security cameras in place or regular patrols?"
The transit agency has invested in hundreds of cameras that are set up in stations, parking lots and along train routes to deter crime and gather evidence, said Aikins.
That doesn't mean they catch everything.
"We do have lots of working cameras," she added. "Just like any other equipment, maybe something doesn't work in that particular moment or it can only point at certain directions, you can only have so many of them."
Aikins declined to go into detail about the steps Metrolinx is taking to address vehicle thefts, but said the agency is using a "number of measures" including patrols, customer eduction and things like good lighting to cut down on crime.
"I want to assure our customers and the general public that it is a top priority with us to catch these guys and to work closely with the Halton police to make sure they can press charges and bring these people to justice."
So what can truck owners do to protect their vehicles? Metrolinx offers the following tips:
- Park in well-lit areas.
- Never leave valuables in plain sight.
- Make sure doors are locked and windows are up.
- Never leave a vehicle running and unattended.
- Turn wheels when parking because it makes them harder to remove.
- Use wheel locks wherever possible.
- Don't leave the key to your wheel lock anywhere that's easily accessible, like the glove box.
Maarse said parking at Clarkson and taking the train is still part of his commute.
But now he's started taking some precautions of his own.
"I've been a bit paranoid or safe lately. I've been parking in the parking deck right under the security camera."