Vehicle stolen while warming up in Maplewood Jack in the Box Parking Lot

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MAPLEWOOD, MO (KPLR) - Exclusive surveillance video captures a cold weather crime: an unattended vehicle stolen as it was warming up.

Jack in the Box employee Marquita Wright was wrapping up her shift on a recent morning when her Mercury Milan disappeared.

“I turned the car on to let it heat up. I came back maybe fifteen minutes later, and it was gone,” she said.

Maplewood Police are hoping surveillance video will help them locate the men responsible for the auto theft.

Security video shows the suspects’ vehicle, a black Chrysler Town & Country, entering the parking lot of the Jack in the Box restaurant at 7520 Manchester Road. The incident happened in mid-December.

The van can be seen backing into a space next to Wright’s vehicle at approximately 7 am. A man exits the passenger side of the van, enters the unlocked Milan, and follows the van past the drive thru and out of the lot.

Maplewood Police Detective David Brown said many drivers take auto thefts for granted during cold weather months. Criminals, he said, cruise around searching for unattended vehicles warming up outside homes, restaurants, and gas stations.

“It’s not a particular person they’re targeting. It’s just an opportunity to find a vehicle that’s left running, with the keys inside,” Brown said.

The suspects’ van was reported stolen and located in Maplewood, Brown said. Wright’s stolen Milan was eventually located in north St. Louis. She said the criminals set fire to the seats to destroy any evidence.

“It’s sad, because it’s my transportation to get back and forth to work, and to get my children to where they need to go. For somebody to steal it, and I just got done paying for it,” Wright said.

Brown said during the stretch of freezing temperatures, drivers should think wisely if they plan to warm up their vehicles outside.

“If you’re going to have a car running, be outside and be in the car. Otherwise, maybe purchase a remote start system. That way people can’t drive away with it. It is [expensive] but it might be worth it. It’s cheaper than having to replace your vehicle,” he said.