SOUTH JORDAN — A Utah family getting ready to go to Hawaii got quite a surprise moments before they planned to head to the airport Wednesday morning.
Ashly and Chas Johnson and their four kids — ages 8, 7, 4 and 15 months — were about to leave their South Jordan home at 4:30 a.m. to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight. It was cold at that hour, so the vehicle was running and the three suitcases packed with clothing for the trip to Hawaii were in the back.
“(We) turned the car on to start it for a couple minutes, and then we sat down as a family and had a little prayer, left to go get in the car, and the car was gone,” Ashly Johnson said.
The family was inside the house for just a few minutes, but that's all the time it took for someone to get in the white 2004 Toyota Sequoia and drive away.
"It was started for two minutes in my garage that’s on the side of my house at the end of a cul-de-sac,” Ashly Johnson said. “Who at 4:30 in the morning could possibly know that I'm going to the airport and my car was started?"
At first, Chas Johnson said he thought his wife might have moved the car to the driveway.
“I walked to the driveway, looked around and thought, 'My car’s been stolen,'" he said, adding that he “called 911 immediately.”
Ashly Johnson said she was in a state of "disbelief."
“You hear about it happening all the time," she said, "but then it happens to you, (and) you think, ‘Wow.’”
Salt Lake police detective Robert Ungricht said such vehicle thefts happen more than people think.
“In fact, as I was driving in today, I heard five or six (calls) on our radio that were all warm-up thefts,” Ungricht said Wednesday. “It’s hard to give a rough number, but I would say on any given morning, we could have 15 to 20.”
Ungricht says most people don’t believe they’re going to be a victim of this kind of crime until it happens to them.
“The thing that we tell people is it’s very easy for these individuals to see these cars warming up in cold temperatures because you can see the exhaust coming from the exhaust pipes from a couple blocks away,” Ungricht said.
He recommends that people not leave their keys in the car, and if they’re going to warm up their car, stay inside the vehicle.
Police say thieves usually abandon the vehicles they steal, so the Johnsons' SUV will most likely be found within a few months in some condition. The detective also added that a lot of insurance companies will not cover theft of a motor vehicle if it finds that the owner left the vehicle warming up or left the keys in the vehicle and created a crime of opportunity.
The Johnsons say their insurance company told them that in approximately 80 percent of such claims, the vehicles are recovered in 60 to 90 days.
The Johnsons bought airline ticket insurance so their tickets are still good. While the trip to Hawaii is postponed, the couple says they were lucky.
“We did have our car seats and the luggage we were planning on checking (inside the vehicle)," Ashly Johnson said, "however we had not put any of our carry-ons in yet, so we have all of our wallets and money and electronics.”
They will have to replace luggage, clothes and toiletries.
“The biggest disappointment from our kids was they had all their blankies,” Chas Johnson said.
“Blankies that you can’t replace,” Ashly Johnson added.
They estimate that the items in the vehicle cost a couple thousand dollars.
“I would love to see the look on his face when he opens up the middle console, or he or whoever, and they find diapers, because that’s all that’s in there,” Ashly Johnson said with a laugh.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc