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Fla. ‘Detective’ Broker Breaks Auto Theft Ring

Thieves stole Sarasota Realtor Rachel Speight’s car, so she put on a detective hat, tracked them down, found other stolen cars and turned them into the police.

SARASOTA, Fla. – A local businesswoman launched her own investigation to find her stolen Mercedes in Palmetto. In less than two days, she discovered her stolen car as well as four other stolen vehicles. Local law enforcement even talked about hiring her because of her swift detective work.

Rachel Speight of Sarasota has worked in real estate for almost 20 years. As her business flourished, she purchased a 2010 Mercedes as a gift to herself in 2011 to celebrate her achievements and to use when showing properties to her clients.

She said after buying the luxury vehicle, her real estate sales went up 60% and the vehicle became an important tool in her business success.

Speight’s daughter borrowed her Mercedes on Sept. 21 while her car was in the shop. After getting repairs made, her daughter placed the keys inside the car and parked the Mercedes next to hers, directly in front of her house.

The following morning, Speight got a call from her daughter asking when did she come pick up the car? Then they realized the car was stolen.

“Where’s my car?” she said to her daughter jokingly. But it was no joke her car was actually gone. “I went to huffing and puffing because that was my baby when I started my real estate career. That was the car I purchased, so I’m panicking.”

Captured on camera

Speight’s daughter and a few of her neighbors managed to capture a small glimpse of the car being taken. Around 3 a.m., a neighbor’s Ring camera captured the lights of the vehicle being turned on. Speight believes the car thief drove down the street with the lights off before turning them on to make a getaway.

Speight then went through the process of reporting her car stolen. Unsure if her car would ever be found, she decided to launch her own investigation. She said she couldn’t sit back and wait because it was like her car was calling her, “Come and get me.”

Hitting the pavement

The same day she filed the police report, Speight went to her office to make a flyer offering a large reward. She printed 200 copies to hand out and posted it on Facebook. Speight handed out the flyers to schoolchildren, local store owners and anyone she could to get information on her stolen car.

“I knew who stole the car had to be in the area and couldn’t have driven far in a stolen vehicle,” she said. “So, I saturated the area with flyers.”

Soon she started getting phone calls from people who had spotted her car but didn’t know its exact location.

Lost and found

“I started driving around the area near the Palmetto Youth Center, going down random dead-end streets and, lo and behold,” she said. “I saw my car.”

On Sept. 23, the car was found in the 27th block of 1st Ave. E in Palmetto. The car was parked in a grassy vacant lot between two houses. Speight said the residents in the homes next to the lot had nothing to do with the crime.

She was relieved but still afraid and quickly called the police. She also called her husband and daughter to help stake out the place until the police arrived.

She said she didn’t know if the person who stole her car was inside one of the houses or if they’d come out with guns flaring. “I just saw my baby sitting back there, and said I’m about to come get you.”

Speight’s car was blocked in by another car, which the sheriff’s office confirmed was also stolen. In total, law enforcement found four stolen vehicles parked in the lot: two Mercedes, a newer Mustang, and a Mazda. The Mustang had just been stolen that same morning.

Speight said the second Mercedes found was so badly damaged and the tires were off the rims, that the car’s owner told investigators she didn’t want it anymore. She felt violated.

Another victim shared that she lost her job because her car was stolen and she couldn’t get to work.

Speight has retired her Mercedes, which helped her business expand many years ago, and has bought a new one. But she’s happy to have found the car that holds so many memories for her.

Randy Warren, the public information officer for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, told the Bradenton Herald on Thursday that motor vehicle theft in the county is up 19% from 2021. Warren couldn’t say for certain what caused the spike, but he did say they’ve seen less smash and grabs and more vehicle thefts as a result of people leaving their cars unlocked.

“Don’t make it easy for them,” he said, “ Don’t leave your key fob in the car. Don’t leave your engine running. Don’t make it easy for them to steal your car.”

Warren said putting up fliers, getting the word out within your community, and going on social media are all good ways to help with a stolen car investigation. “Any information that people can find and circulate is going to be helpful in finding the vehicles and getting them back to the owner,” he said.

© 2022 The Bradenton Herald (Bradenton, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.