A man died Tuesday in Georgia when a vehicle he was attempting to steal a catalytic converter from fell and crushed him to death, according to police.
Police in Chatham County said 32-year-old Matthew Eric Smith climbed under a vehicle at a car lot. As he allegedly attempted to remove the device, the vehicle fell on top of him.
The owner of Prestige Auto Sales found Smith under a car at around 9:15 am on March 7, WSAV-TV reported. Police said Smith was dead after having been crushed.
He reportedly had an extensive criminal record in the area.
Chief Jeff Hadley of the Chatham County Police Department told the outlet his agency chose to speak out about the death of Smith in order to make the public aware of such thefts.
“We normally don’t publicize every death investigation that we go to,” Hadley said. “Many are natural, it could be an overdose or something like that …”
Hadley said he hopes this case works as a “deterrent” for people who target vehicles.
Thefts of these exhaust emission control devices from parked cars, trucks and SUVs have skyrocketed in recent years.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, 3,389 claims were filed in 2019 in relation to the thefts of a catalytic converter.
In 2020, the number of claims jumped 325 percent to 14,433.
CARFAX reported the vehicles most targeted by thieves are the Ford F-series trucks made from 1985 to 2021. Other models targeted are 1989-2020 Honda Accords, 2007-2017 Jeep Patriots and 1999-2021 Chevrolet Silverados.
The precious metals used to manufacture the devices are in some cases worth thousands of dollars per ounce.
People can protect their vehicles from theft by parking them in well-lighted areas and garages and by installing anti-theft cages over their catalytic converters.
NerdWallet also suggests painting the converters with a bright color and having the vehicle identification number, or VIN, inscribed on it in order to ward off potential thieves.
Reputable scrap dealers are less likely to accept such a device from a seller if it is marked.
In November, the Justice Department charged 21 people across nine states, from California to New York, for allegedly operating a catalytic converter theft ring.
Due to automotive emissions standards in California, the department said the state’s cars are an easy target.
But U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson for the Northern District of Oklahoma said 2,000 catalytic converter thefts had occurred in the city of Tulsa alone in the previous year.
“Organized criminal activity, including the large-scale theft of catalytic converters, is costly to victims and too often places citizens and law enforcement in danger,” Johnson said.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.