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Beyond the statistics: Vehicle thefts leave victims violated

LAKE COUNTY — While statistics show a rash of recent vehicle thefts, the numbers don’t reveal the human side of car thefts — the feeling of being violated, worries about a trashed or wrecked vehicle, insurance issues, and the inconvenience of no transportation.   

Sometimes it’s not just a vehicle, sometimes there’s a pet involved.

Right before Thanksgiving, Polson resident Michael Hunter was dogsitting Maya for his father-in-law, Rick Higdon, while Higdon traveled to Texas after his mother passed away.

Hunter’s truck was stolen from the KwaTaqNuk Resort and Casino — with the dog inside. 

“I ran into the KwaTaqNuk. I locked (my truck) up but left it running so Maya would stay warm. My buddy came in and told me somebody stole my truck,” Hunter said. 

At first Hunter didn’t believe him. Then he looked around and his truck was gone.

“I was at a loss,” Hunter said. “I felt violated.”

But the worst part for Hunter was having to call and tell Higdon someone stole his truck with Maya in it. 

It was the worst possible timing, Hunter said. 

“His mom had just died, and now Maya was gone. That dog’s his baby,” Hunter said. 

Hunter drove around all night looking for his truck and the dog. 

Social media saved the day. Although he doesn’t use Facebook at all, Hunter contacted his wife’s sister and her brothers. They got on Facebook and spread the word.

“My phone just went off after that,” Hunter said. “Oh, and the best part is, the guy who stole my truck was on Facebook.”

Someone who saw the blurb on Facebook found Maya walking down Round Butte Road.

A kid named Jeremy Devlin found his truck, according to Hunter. Devlin also saw the info on Facebook. He told Hunter if his truck had been stolen, he’d have wanted someone to be looking.

The truck thief stole all Hunter’s painting tools — brushes, sanders, receipts for jobs, jumper cables, about $1,000 in all — and partied inside his truck. 

“It was trashed inside, and it smelled like alcohol,” Hunter said, adding that he picked up beer cans and half-smoked cigars.

Hunter said he knows who stole the truck, but the male was never charged with it, which frustrated him.

Karen Dumont of Charlo had her new pickup stolen before she ever made the first payment on it.  

Dumont has lived in the Valley for 33 years and never gave a thought to starting her truck so it could warm up. Plus, her husband is a Flathead Tribal Law Enforcement officer, so there is usually a police car sitting in their driveway. That morning her husband wasn’t home yet. Dumont said she was going in to work early, so she started her truck at about 6:20 a.m. on Jan. 2. 

It only took seven minutes for a thief to take her pickup, because when Dumont went out at 6:27 a.m., it was gone. 

“I hadn’t even made the first payment,” she said. “I was totally upset and felt violated.”

The thief added insult to injury, literally, for Dumont, who had been injured by two dogs in a dogfight, causing her to be out of work for a month.

Running through her head was the fact her husband was “out there every damn day protecting everybody” and that she “worked hard for my stuff.”

“How dare you,” she thought.

She wanted to thank all the law enforcement officers in the Valley. She said Lake County deputies, tribal police, tribal ranger and Montana Highway Patrol troopers were out looking for her truck.

“They were out there by 7 a.m.,” she said. “This Valley needs to be aware of what these officers are doing; they’re an amazing group of people, and they are out there every day,” she said.

She told her husband she was amazed, and he said they do the same thing for everyone.

Her son put her stolen truck out on Facebook and that helped. 

“It was just amazing how the community pulled together,” Dumont said. 

While her vehicle was found by Lake County Deputy Sheriff Dan Yonkin on Jan. 8, the thieves haven’t been caught yet, she said. 

When she got her pickup back, Dumont said the thieves had ripped the rearview mirror off “because of the OnStar,” she said, and missing were “a cross my son gave me and an angel,” Dumont said. She’d really like to get her cross back.

However, she posted on Facebook that getting her truck stolen made her aware of what’s important – her family and community.

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