At least five catalytic converters found after Irving Park car crash just after reported theft, nationwide spike
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CHICAGO (CBS) — Catalytic converters were left all over the ground at the scene of an awful car crash Thursday morning in the Irving Park neighborhood.

Thankfully, everyone involved was doing OK late in the day – but we found one of the cars involved in the crash matches a call about catalytic converter thefts minutes earlier.

Police said charges are still pending on the crash Thursday morning, and right now, they are not connecting the catalytic converter thefts and crash on the record. But video from the scene tells the story insurance companies say they’re hearing over and over again.

The intersection of Addison Street and Kimball Avenue was blocked off overnight, following an early-morning crash that left a black Infiniti sedan destroyed.

Police said the driver of the sedan was speeding west down Addison Street and ran a red light at Kimball Avenue. The Infiniti sedan hit a white Mazda sedan in the intersection, police said.

The man behind the wheel of the Mazda was rushed to AMITA Health St. Francis Hospital in good condition. The driver of the Infiniti was taken to the same hospital, and two men in the Infiniti with him were taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center – all with non-life-threatening injuries.

Our crews watched police sift through more than glass, rubble, and broken car parts at this scene. Our cameras rolled on police recovering a saw, and at least five catalytic converters.

Chicago Police aren’t publicly connecting the dots just yet, so we looked and listened closer. Just minutes before, scanner audio indicated that police were called to a location nearby on Christiana Avenue – the next street west from Kimball Avenue – for three men in a black car trying to steal catalytic converters.

On record, police said there was a call for theft at that location, but the job was coded out and no report was filed.

Catalytic converter thefts are a worsening problem in Chicago. Police don’t track catalytic converter thefts specifically, but the companies processing the claims do.

A spokesperson for State Farm Insurance said the latest numbers they can compare, from January and February, show the thefts more than doubling in Illinois in the past year.

There were 76 claims filed with State Farm for catalytic converter theft in January 2021, and 284 January of this year. There were 70 claims in February 2021, and 197 this year.

A total of $3.5 million were paid out in catalytic converter claims in Illinois last year, compared with $1.1 million in 2020, and $650,000 in 2019. This year, through April, State Farm has already paid out $2 million.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau explained that the spike in catalytic converter thefts stems from the increasing value of some of the precious metals catalytic converters contain:

“The theft of catalytic converters increased due to the increasing value of the precious metals – specifically rhodium, palladium, and platinum, otherwise known as ‘platinum group metals’ or PGM’s. While any engine-powered vehicle running on gas or diesel can be targeted for these thefts, typically larger, high-clearance vehicles tend to be targeted for the ease of getting underneath the vehicle and removing the catalytic converter in a matter of seconds. However, hybrids also tend to be targeted often as their hybrid system design tends to result in cleaner catalytic converters.”

The NICB conducted a nationwide study on the number of catalytic converter thefts from 2019 to 2021 – showing massive increases.

Note: Reason for comparing increase vs 2019 is 2019 was the last full year pre-COVID.

NICB noted that the study resulting in these figures was not looking at all thefts, but providing a theft rend based on claims filed after catalytic converter thefts. NICB also noted its analysts observed a strong correlation between the spike in thefts of catalytic converters and the rise in value specifically of rhodium.

NICB President and Chief Executive Officer David Glawe released the following statement:

“We saw a significant increase of catalytic converter thefts during the pandemic. As the value of the precious metals contained within catalytic converters increased substantially in 2020, so did the number of thefts of these devices. There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives investors towards these precious metals.”

NICB provided the following advice for vehicle owners looking to reduce their chance of theft:

  • Install a catalytic converter anti-theft device. These are available from various manufacturers and can provide a level of security from theft.
  • Park fleet vehicles in an enclosed and secured area that is well lit, locked, and alarmed.
  • Park personal vehicles in a garage. If not possible and vehicles must be parked in a driveway, consider installing motion sensor security lights. While lights may not provide complete security, it may make some thieves think twice, making them leave the area and your vehicle untouched.
  • Call local law enforcement and your insurer should you become the victim of a catalytic converter theft.

Molina checked with Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who represents the area. He said his ward is seeing continued issues with these thefts, just like neighborhoods across Chicago. 

We’ll keep checking in with Chicago Police on the cases early Thursday morning.

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