42 cars stolen in last 4 months

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This map shows where vehicles have been stolen in Flathead County from Aug. 1 through Nov. 30. Red circles indicate where vehicle thefts occurred and green marks illustrate where they were recovered. (Graphic courtesy of Flathead County Sheriff’s Office)

It’s a simple act, at most taking seconds for some and for others, the simple push of a button.

But, according to Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino, for those who don’t lock their vehicles, they are taking a big risk.

According to statistics from the Sheriff’s Office, there were 42 stolen vehicles in Flathead County from the beginning of August through the end November, which means nearly one every three days.

“Most of the thefts occurred with unlocked vehicles and the keys left in them,” Heino said. “A few had keys left in the ignition, but many had the keys ‘hidden’ in the vehicle, under floor mats, places like that.”

Heino said he is asking the public to keep vehicles locked when they are not in or near them.

“I’ve lived here all my life and didn’t use to lock my vehicles, but times are changing here,” Heino said.

The majority of stolen vehicles have occurred in the Kalispell and Evergreen areas, but there have been several stolen between Kalispell and Whitefish and between Columbia Falls and West Glacier.

Some vehicle thefts also have occurred in the Lakeside area and a few from as far as Hungry Horse Reservoir area, near Bigfork, Marion and Olney. Most of the stolen vehicles have been found in the Flathead Valley area in somewhat isolated areas.

The stolen vehicles, which include 4-wheelers, are often used to commit crimes or the assailants steal guns, cash, radios and other valuable items from them.

“The vast majority of these crimes are connected to drugs,” Heino said. “We’re seeing more stolen guns traded for drugs.”

Heino said most of the items people seek are easily pawned for cash to buy drugs.

The recently concluded hunting season also gave thieves clues on where to steal guns and other items.

“People see the orange clothes in the vehicles and it’s a tipoff for thieves on where they may find guns,” Heino said.

Heino also suggested people either take their valuables inside their residences or keep them hidden if they remain in their vehicles.

For those who have firearms, Heino recommended keeping them locked in gun safes or very well hidden.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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