‘It feels so violating,’ resident comments

Sophia Lehmer of Cottage Lane in west Hood River reported her 2009 Silver Jeep Liberty stolen last week and wants to help others avoid the same fate.

“I hear from people that break-ins are almost a daily occurrence,” said Lehmer, who reported the theft to Hood River Police.

Lieut. Don Cheli confirmed that his department has responded to seven vehicle thefts so far in 2021, compared to zero in the first two months of both 2020 and 2019.

Cheli said that in one case, a vehicle that had been reported stolen was found outside of town, stripped of its wheels and other parts.

In addition to thefts, a total of six car prowls have been reported in the past three weeks, with four of them happening on Feb. 24. Three of the break-ins happened on East Eugene.

Lehmer said a neighbor also had his e-bike stolen from inside his unlocked van the night after her car was stolen, and another friend in Hood River recently reported their unlocked mountain bike was taken from the front porch.

The stolen Liberty had a child car seat in it, and Lehmer said knowing it was stolen has been traumatic for her 4-year-old son.

In addition, her daughter, 11, who used to freely roam the neighborhood, now is afraid to play by herself in her own yard.

“She’s scared. It just feels so violating, and it is sad to see that happen in little Hood River,” Lehmer said.

Cheli said that due to staffing the department can’t add extra patrols, and that vehicle owners must protect themselves by locking their cars and not leaving keys inside.

“Car prowls tend to happen close to one another and to come in spurts — several a night for a few nights in a row, and then nothing reported for a few weeks.

“They’ll walk along checking cars until they find one open,” Cheli noted.

Cheli urged residents to lock their vehicles and avoid leaving valuables inside.

“Car prowlers hardly ever smash a window or damage a car to get in. They look for unlocked doors,” he said.

Often it is spare change or other incidentals that are the only missing, or apparently missing, items.

“Sometimes a person’s car gets entered and they won’t know about it right away,” Cheli said.

In the case of car prowls as well as thefts, “These are crimes of opportunity,” he said. “Car prowlers check for unlocked doors and if they can get in they will take what they can. If the keys are in it, often they will just take the whole car.”

Cougar sighted

Cheli confirmed that a Heights homeowner caught a cougar in a brief front porch surveillance camera clip on Feb. 27 on Fourth Street, near the Indian Creek ravine. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has been notified and will take additional steps such as temporary cameras or track it, after it is determined the cougar is a threat to humans, according to Cheli. He said his department has not heard of any eyewitness sightings of a cougar in recent weeks.