In the early morning hours of St. Patrick's Day, police responded to a call from a worker at a local industrial building in Anaheim, Calif. The employee had made a distressing find upon arriving at the site: a man's unmoving legs sticking out from underneath one of the company's cars, Sgt. Shane Carringer tells the Los Angeles Times. When first responders arrived at the scene, they looked at the unnamed man's positioning and the tools he had with him and concluded he'd been trying to yank the Toyota Prius' catalytic converter out and run with it—only the jack holding the car up had failed, and the car ended up crushing him to death, Carringer says. The attempted theft apparently isn't a one-off in the southern part of the state: The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department says that from 2019 to 2020, there was a 400% spike in the stealing of catalytic converters, a device meant to slash a vehicle's emissions.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau notes the same trend across the US, with more than a tenfold jump in such thefts from 2018 to 2020, per NBC Los Angeles. Thieves can get a few hundred dollars for each unit at local junkyards or auto parts dealers. "They're filled with precious metals such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium," the manager of an auto repair shop in Thousand Oaks tells City News Service. "I believe they melt them down and separate the metals and sell them because they're worth more than gold." While car owners can minimize the risk by parking their cars in locked garages or well-lit locations, there's not much they can do once the catalytic converter is swiped, unless they had the foresight to etch their car's VIN into the device. Even if police come across a bunch of stolen units in a raid, "it's like walking in ... and seeing a locker room full of shoes," a rep from AAA tells the Times. (Read more freak accident stories.)