Manitoba

Man who accidentally stole car 21 years ago searching for vehicle's owner

If your car disappeared from a West End parking lot in August 1998 only to miraculously reappear, locked and apparently untouched, a Winnipeg man wants you to know: you weren't imagining things.

1998 Slurpee run turned into unexpected theft that's made great story to tell over the years

Kevin Freedman stole a car, by mistake, in 1998. Now he's searching for the car's owner to say sorry and explain what happened. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Kevin Freedman has been living with an open secret for the last 21 years. The Winnipeg man stole someone's car — by accident — and now wants to find the vehicle's owner to explain what happened.

"I always felt guilty about it. I felt horrible that I stole someone's car — accidentally, albeit — and I wanted to reach out to her in the beginning. I wanted to reach out to the police to let them know what happened [at the time] and I was talked out of it because it was pretty much, no harm no foul," explains Freedman, 38.

Freedman says it all started when he went to run an errand on a break from work in August 1998. The 17-year-old lifeguard and swim instructor didn't have wheels because he had hit a cow while driving on the highway about a month earlier.

He says a colleague offered her car so he could bring them back Slurpees on that hot August day.

Freedman says the car he accidentally stole looked similar to this 1990 Ford Taurus. (vicariauction.com)

His colleague's car was a light-coloured mid-'90s Ford Taurus, which Freedman recalls as a very common car at the time.

He went out and spotted a white Ford Taurus sitting in the parking lot of the Sargent Park Pool (now known as the Cindy Klassen Rec Complex) with the windows down and doors unlocked. Freedman went to start the car but had some difficulty. Eventually, after putting on his seatbelt, he was able to get it to start.

"And I thought, 'oh I've never heard of this technology before, maybe they have this you can't start the car without the seat belt done,' so that was my thought at the time."

Freedman drove downtown to a police station to take care of his parking ticket. He says when he came out and tried to get in the car, the door wouldn't open.

"I was really concerned that I had broken this woman's car. Like, the first time [I'd] ever driven anyone's car without them there and I broke her car right off the bat."

Parking officer helps open door

That's when Freedman says a couple of parking officers offered to help.

"The commissioners walked up asked me if I was having some difficulty and I said 'yeah I can't unlock the door. This is my friend's car.' So one of the commissioners said 'well I've got a Ford just like this at home and the keys are really wonky and sometimes just have to know how to do it.' So he took the key from me ... tried once, twice, unlocked it and he said it's all in the wrist."

It's now the Cindy Klassen Rec Complex. But in 1998, this was the parking lot where people parked at the Sargent Park Pool. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Freedman says it took another 10 minutes to get the car fired up. For some reason, the car wouldn't start even with his seatbelt on.

"So I was pretty upset, pretty panicked I must have done something or I'm just so incompetent that I can't start a car if this guy can unlock it on the second try."

Freedman says he drove to the Public Safety Building next to take care of that ticket after finding out the downtown station didn't handle tickets. Then he did the Slurpee run and apologized to his co-worker for damaging her car key and ignition.

"She said, well, I don't think anything happened. It's probably fine."

Thought he ruined co-worker's car

Freedman left, but came back later to work a second shift. That's when he noticed something strange — his co-worker's car was still in the lot, right where he'd left it. Freedman thought he had damaged it so badly she couldn't drive home.

"So that night I didn't sleep all that well because I was kind of feeling embarrassed and ashamed that I had done this to her car."

In the morning, he apologized to his co-worker, Jocelyne McKie.

Kevin Freedman is hoping the driver of the car he took will see this story and come forward. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"I said Jocelyne, I'm so sorry. What happened to your car? How come you left your car here last night? And she said 'I didn't leave my car here last night.' And it dawned on me finally, at that point, that it wasn't her car. And I said that wasn't your car? And she looked at me and her eyes bugged out and she said 'When you were gone yesterday somebody reported a car stolen.'"

'Goody-two-shoes' panicked about ordeal

"I remember feeling panicked and a bit spooked about that because I was quite the goody-two-shoes ... So you can imagine that I was quite freaked out about this stolen car thing," McKie told CBC Sunday when confirming the tale.

"It was very spooky that you could take a key and you could unlock a car and then drive it, a completely different car."

Freedman says McKie told him shortly after he left, a woman in her 20s walked out of the pool and reported her car stolen to staff. She wanted to report it to the police but didn't know her licence plate, so went home. She showed up the next day with police and found her car, apparently untouched.

"They found the car in the exact same spot she left it with the windows up, no sign of forced entry, nothing missing out of the car. And so the police thought that she might have been a little nuts and she maybe thought that she was a little bit off."

Freedman has told the story to his friends for years and said recently they encouraged him to go public with it to try and find the woman.

"I've wondered [what it would be] like to hear the other side of the story. What story she tells her friends, or if she's too embarrassed to tell anybody because she thinks that it wasn't really stolen."

"It was the kind of experience that makes somebody feel like they might not be completely with it or maybe they thought that they made a mistake and they don't really understand how they did. So I wanted to let her know after all these years that this really did happen and that she didn't imagine it."

Freedman says if anyone wants to reach out, they can contact him on Twitter @MBKev.

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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