A former contractor at DCH Toyota was in custody Tuesday in connection with three "brazen" thefts of vehicles from the dealership in the past week, Torrance police said.
The case came to light after customers brought their cars in for routine service and returned to find themselves victims of theft.
The first victim, Kim Levine, brought her pickup truck to DCH Toyota's service center in Torrance for an oil change on Aug. 13. She left with a courtesy car and came back the same day to find her truck had been stolen while being serviced.
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"I'm waiting for the porters to bring it forward and you know one car comes up, another car comes up and these people have come in after me," Levine told NBC4. "And finally I walked back inside and asked them where my vehicle was."
DCH General Manager Chris Hunter said someone took the keys from a storage area on the second level of the service center and drove away with the vehicle in broad daylight.
An FJ Cruiser SUV was stolen from the dealership Aug. 15, and a Scion was stolen Tuesday morning, Torrance Police Sgt. Paul Kranke said, all while the vehicles were at DCH for routine services during business hours.
The suspect was identified as 23-year-old Jose Alfredo Flores, of Wilmington, a former DCH contractor (pictured at right), police said.
"It is pretty brazen," Kranke said.
Levine said she thought the crime was a joke.
"I am still waiting for someone to run around the corner telling me I'm being punked," Levine said.
Hunter said the dealership has had guards on duty since Monday and made plans to purchase a new surveillance system.
"I really just want the loan to be paid off and for them to say that it is completely a loss," Levine said.
The dealership is providing loaner cars to the victims, DCH said.
Experts told NBC4 car owners who are worried about theft should be sure to remove all valuables, including garage door openers, fast pass devices and personal papers, from their vehicles when getting them serviced.
Owners should know their insurance coverage and read the contract when leaving a car at the repair shop to be sure of who is responsible for damage or theft.
Filing a police report will give owners documentation if they need to make a claim, experts said.