596 seconds to strip a car

OLYMPIA – From Honda to heap in 600 seconds.

Actually, 596 ticks of the stopwatch were all the time needed Monday for three men to strip a 2006 Honda Element of its major pieces.

With sockets, pliers, lug wrenches and a floor jack, the trio endured a driving rain to dismantle the vehicle, starting with the hood and ending with the tires.

This chop job at the base of the steps leading of the state Capitol was legal and done to educate 100 onlookers as to the ease with which professional thieves can rip off a car, then rip it up for parts.

“A couple things were a little tricky. We had never done this model before,” said Billy Byrd of Tennessee.

He along with Chuck James and Jerry Long, both of Texas, said the nine minutes and 56 seconds was not their fastest time.

“That’s part of the reality of it,” Byrd said. “That way it doesn’t look like a set-up.”

The three auto body technicians are paid by Allstate Insurance Co. to conduct such demonstrations around the country.

This one came at the behest of Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek. He used the event to publicize his proposed legislation toughening penalties for juvenile and adult car thieves.

That bill passed the House of Representatives last week. It is pending consideration in the Senate.

Auto theft is a serious problem in Washington, authorities say. More than 100 vehicles are reported stolen each day in the state, according to the Washington State Patrol.

Among metropolitan areas, the Seattle-Tacoma region had the sixth highest incidence of auto theft in the nation, according to a 2006 study by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Lovick’s message Monday was that many times thieves take the vehicles to so-called chop shops where they are disassembled and the parts sold.

He spoke to a crowd of lawmakers and state workers who huddled under umbrellas to watch the soaked spectacle.

At the start, James popped open the hood and with teammate Long the two spun their wrenches in rhythm to disconnect and remove it. The front grill, bumper and headlights followed.

They fanned out, taking off doors, the rear bumper and tailgate.

At the 7-minute mark, the driver’s bucket seat came out. Moments later, the left side of the vehicle got jacked up as they unscrewed lug nuts and pulled off both wheels.

The final moments saw the passenger seat removed and passenger tires yanked off and slid under the car frame as blocks.

Law enforcement officers noted it was impressive given the three men had only hand tools. Professional thieves are more likely to be armed with power tools, they said.

Afterward, with the applause ended, came the realization they had to put it back together.

“We’ll give it a few minutes,” James told an onlooker.

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