EVERETT — They’d been together for 32 years and 348,000 miles.
She came back to find the love of her life gone.
What’s up with that?
Barb Denton was despondent.
“My beloved Jeep Cherokee, purchased new in 1991, was stolen from a Sea-Tac hotel in July while I was on vacation,” Denton said. “I’ve been bawling like a baby ever since.”
Over a 32-year-old car?
“I had no hope that I’d ever get it back,” she said. “I cried so hard just looking at the picture of it. I missed it so much. It’s part of you.”
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Washington had 46,939 car thefts last year, an increase of 31% from 2021. Topping the stolen list was the full-size 1999 Ford pickup, with a 2004 Chevy truck ranking fourth. Others included three older model Hondas, 1998 Subaru Legacy and 2007 Toyota Camry. The 2018 Hyundai Elantra ranked 10th. Jeeps didn’t make the list.
The bureau reported that more than 85% of vehicles reported stolen nationwide in 2022 were recovered by law enforcement or through other means.
Older cars are targets because newer vehicles have sophisticated alarms and anti-theft systems.
There aren’t that many sporty red Jeep Laredos like Denton’s still around.
It has a boxy front, square windows, woven cloth seats and push-button silver handles on the door, which only open by the manual turn of the key.
“It rattles and squeaks, and makes old geriatric noises,” she said. “The engine is original. I’ve put in a couple water pumps. That’s the thing about keeping things so long, you just keep up on it.”
The Jeep was the only new car she ever had. Her son named it the Red Dragon in 2006 when he was 16 and the car was 15. She offered to give it to him but he turned it down, saying it was too old.
Benton is a paralegal and real estate broker. The Red Dragon carried numerous clients around Everett and Snohomish County to look at homes.
“It’s famous,” she said. “I’ve been driving it for so long. Everybody knows it.”
In July, which also happens to be National Vehicle Theft Prevention Month, she did a “park, sleep and fly” package at the Best Western when she went to Maui for a week. Upon return at midnight, she went to the hotel car lot and the Red Dragon was gone.
The police said it was among the ongoing auto thefts around the airport, she said.
A friend insisted on loaning her a spare car, a late model BMW. She started looking at her options out there.
“It is disturbing for me to drive new cars. They flash and have all these sounds,” she said.
Last week, a friend taking a walk saw an old red Jeep parked at the Inn at Port Gardner at the Everett Waterfront. He knew it was hers by the “Sons of Norway” sticker on the back.
It had been abandoned and there was a note on the windshield saying: “Move this car. It doesn’t belong here.”
Darn right. It belonged with her.
The car, stolen 45 miles away, was a mere three miles from her home.
This time, she cried with joy.
But Denton and her four-wheeled soulmate couldn’t go home together yet. The car battery was dead. She was due for a new one anyway.
She had the Jeep towed to ONB Automotive Repair, her Everett mechanic since 2004.
“Maintenance. That’s how she’s made it all these miles,” ONB co-owner Shelley Kerr said. “It’s a beautiful rig.”
Her business has seen an increase in cars with gas tanks that thieves drilled through to steal fuel.
“We’ve done 10 in the last month,” Kerr said.
The Jeep showed no signs of being hotwired. The door didn’t appear to be forced open. The spare key she hides in a magnetic box was right where she left it.
The pile of coins in her console were untouched.
Also left behind was her Susan Boyle CD, by that 2009 “Britain’s Got Talent” phenom.
“There’s no accounting for taste,” she said.
The thief left an empty bag of Oberto pepperoni sticks and a pair of men’s sunglasses. This wasn’t a crime big enough for DNA evidence testing, she said.
On Thursday, Denton picked up the Red Dragon from the shop. She was so ready to give the Beemer loaner back to her friend.
“Every day is a gift when you drive a car this long,” she said. “I didn’t want it to go out by getting stolen.”
Washington’s most stolen vehicles in 2022
1999 Ford pickup (full size), 4,121 thefts
2000 Honda Civic, 3,267 thefts
1997 Honda Accord, 2,613 thefts
2004 Chevrolet pickup (full size), 1,575 thefts
2001/2000 Honda CR-V, 1,338 thefts
1997 Ford pickup (small size), 858 thefts
2007 Toyota Camry, 791 thefts
1998 Subaru Legacy, 771 thefts
2001 Dodge pickup (full size), 744 thefts
2018 Hyundai Elantra, 698 thefts
Source: National Insurance Crime Bureau