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Searching for reasons behind Colorado's increase in car thefts

Colorado’s rate of motor vehicle thefts jumped from 377.2 per 100,000 people in 2019 to 636.6 in 2021, according to an estimate by the Department of Public Safety.

DENVER — When Denver police arrested Illya Culpepper on April 22 last year in front of the Belcaro Motel on Colorado Boulevard, after growing suspicious of the Chevrolet Suburban he was driving, it was a bit of fortuitous timing. Only nine minutes had passed since the car's owner had reported it stolen.

Officers would learn Culpepper had stolen the vehicle hours earlier from a liquor store parking lot in Centennial, jacking the car's ignition with a screwdriver. The car's owner discovered it missing when he left work at the store.

> Video above from May: Denver metro averaging nearly 100 stolen cars a day, report says

That was one of four times in about a two-month stretch in 2021 Culpepper would be arrested for car theft in Denver alone, all within a few miles of each other.

Three of those times he was arrested just off of Colorado Boulevard, adding to a total of at least six times Culpepper was arrested on suspicion of car theft between 2014 and last year. He eventually received two years of probation for those four in Denver, but only two of his pleas actually included a car theft charge.

Right now Culpepper is serving a four-year Department of Corrections sentence for a 2021 car theft case in Douglas County. Online inmate records indicate he is currently in community corrections.

Based on court records, it doesn’t appear Culpepper uses the cars he steals to commit other serious crimes such as robbery or burglary, and he's not armed when police arrest him with a stolen car.

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Some available documents suggest stealing cars is at least sometimes a subsistence crime for him: He has told police on a few occasions he broke into a car because he was homeless and needed somewhere to sleep, and he frequently pilfers things of value from the cars such as credit cards and cash.

But Culpepper's prolificacy is emblematic of a spiking problem in the metro area that mirrors rising auto thefts in Colorado. And his trail of stolen cars is characteristic of the transient nature of car thefts in the state, frequently stolen in one jurisdiction and found in another.

> Read the full story at DenverGazette.com.


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