'It happened within seconds:' Newport News woman speaks out after catalytic converter theft caught on camera

NN catalytic converter theft
Posted at 9:22 PM, Apr 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-11 23:26:25-04

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - A troubling trend of thieves targeting cars for catalytic converters is leaving car owners with pricey repair bills. One Newport News woman is speaking out after her catalytic converter was stolen while she was at work.

The crime happened on April Fools' Day, but it turned out not to be a joke. The woman we spoke with told News 3 reporter Kelsey Jones the incident unfortunately left a big dent in her pocket.

Heather Letts was at work when she heard a loud car alarm going off.

"I knew something was wrong, and it took, like, a few seconds, and I realized they stole my catalytic converter," said Letts.

The crime took place in the blink of an eye.

"[It happened at] 9:31, and by 9:32, he was done," said Letts.

Security footage from Letts' job shows a man wielding what appears to be a drill of some sort, crawling under the vehicle and taking the converter.

"You can see where they just cut and cut and took this big section," said Letts.

This attempt was just one of the many recent thefts that have been happening in Newport News, leaving Letts and her wife to pay a hefty amount of $1,000 to get a new converter.

"If they were able to get a brand new one, it would've been $1,900," said Letts.

According to Newport News Police, they said so far this year, they've seen 37 catalytic converter thefts, saying, "Thefts have been an ongoing issue." Last year, there were 143 stolen throughout the city.

"Now, I worry about it every night," Letts said. "I'm constantly going out, checking on my vehicle."

Car experts say there's a platinum-based material in it that thieves steal, taking them to scrap yards for money. Police say thieves often sell converters far from where they steal them, making them hard to track.

"I've asked even the muffler shop, 'What can I do to prevent it?' and they said, 'It's really not much you can do,'" said Letts.

However, police said there are things you can do to cut the risk of falling victim, such as parking in well-lit-areas, installing an anti-theft device and engraving your vehicle's VIN (vehicle identification number) to the catalytic converter.

"If somebody sees something, say something," said Paula Bell.

Viewers asked News 3: How do you know if you're a victim? Aside from catching the crooks on camera, there are some things people should be listening for.

Letts told us she heard a muffling noise that sounds like a racecar. So, if you hear that, don't just crank up the radio to drown it out - you may have a serious problem on your hands.

Related: Virginians react to lawmakers aiming to crack down on catalytic converter thefts