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Thieves stole a catalytic converter from a Toyota Prius early Wednesday — and were able to elude Chula Vista police after fleeing into heavy traffic on north Interstate 805, officials said.

The frustrated victim told OnScene TV this is the second time he’s lost one of the exhaust emission control devices to thieves. The first time, he said, it cost him $3,000 to replace.

The victim was drinking coffee and getting ready for work when he heard the sound of a metal saw around 5:20 a.m. He ran out from his home on Normandy Drive and saw thieves removing the catalytic converter from beneath his car.

Three men ran to a car — but then one went back to pick up the stolen part that had been left in the street. The trio drove off in a Nissan Versa. The victim called 911.

When officers arrived, they saw a vehicle matching the suspects’ car driving on surface streets, police Lt. Gino Grippo said. Police pursued the car but after it got on north Interstate 805, they lost sight of it in heavy traffic near Plaza Boulevard.

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The victim told OnScene this is the second time his Toyota has been targeted and called it “very disappointing” the thieves escaped. He said when he gets the device replaced this time he will ask to have anti-theft measures installed.

Cities around the region and beyond have reported a surge of catalytic converter thefts in recent months. The number of thefts more than quadrupled in a one-year period ending in early December, police agencies reported last year.

Thieves target catalytic converters because of the precious metals used to make the devices. They sell the devices for hundreds of dollars to scrapyards or recycling centers where they can be melted to extract the metals — palladium, rhodium and platinum.

Some police agencies have hosted special events to help car owners engrave their vehicle’s identification number onto their converters. Police say that step will link stolen devices to victims, and can alert buyers they are purchasing stolen parts.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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