Someone took my keys at party, crashed my car, and abandoned it. I found out who did it. Now what?
January 22, 2009 5:22 PM   Subscribe

Someone took my keys at party, crashed my car, and abandoned it. I found out who did it. Now what?

Friday night I was at my friends house. She had a small get-together with a few friends she said she knew very well. There were eight of us.
I passed out around 3am.
When I woke up to go to my car Saturday morning it was gone. I freaked out, searched for the keys, couldn't find them and reported it stolen. I was transferred to a police officer who asked me many questions and then finally told me they found it earlier that morning with the keys in the car and it was involved in a hit and run. The officer told me they wouldn't file a stolen car report and they were going to hold it for investigation and call me.
Today my friend who hosted the party called me. She told me she was at a friend's house yesterday and he told her a story about how "Trevor" and "Simon" were at party on Friday night and they took someone's car to go do donuts and mess around but they crashed into a wall so they parked the car somewhere near the house and left it. It was her house and my car.
I called the cops and told them that I know who did it, explained how I knew and gave them "Simon"s number. The cop told me he'd review the report and if I called tomorrow he'll tell me whether or not he'll release the car.

Now what? How likely is it that the cops will find these guys guilty? If they do find them guilty, are the liable for my insurance deductible? Can I press charges? Is this common?
posted by ad4pt to Law & Government (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm assuming on your posting history you live in the United States.
First of all, the cops will not find them guilty. That's up to the courts.
Second, depending on how serious the hit and run incident was—I hope nobody was hurt—the police may choose to interview "Trevor", "Simon", your friend whose party it was, and you.
Third, you can probably press charges if you want to against "Trevor" and "Simon" for stealing your car if you think there's evidence. Your friend telling you that another friend told her something isn't strong. The police may themselves decide to charge somebody with any number of crimes.
If you are interviewed by the police, take your lawyer along.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:37 PM on January 22, 2009

I'm sure your insurance company will have all kinds of good advice for you here.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:40 PM on January 22, 2009

Definitely call your insurance company. They have legions of lawyers that work to prevent the company from paying out and they'll lean on the right people. Stay in touch with the police and don't be afraid to be annoying. You're in the right, and it's their job to help you.

I know what this can be like. A few years ago, I arrived back at my apartment to find a strange car parked in my driveway. It was my driveway, so I parked behind the car. Soon after, the owner showed up (drunk) and got in the car and demanded that I move mine. I was in no hurry- they were illegally parked. I asked them to wait 5 minutes, and instead, they weaseled their car out through my lawn, dinging my car in the process. I had the description of the car, the license plate number and a description of the driver. When we went to the police, they told us they "looked it up" and the plates didn't match the type or color of car or the owner. They pretty much brushed me off and wouldn't give me any credibility whatsoever. After several more phone calls, the officer finally "found" the owner of the car, who eventually admitted to it... and I was right on with the description the whole time.

The experience really gave me a dim view of police work and I just got the run-around. Sounds like you are too. Be persistent and get a lawyer involved. The police can't just go arrest those guys on hearsay, but you've led them in what is probably the right direction.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 6:03 PM on January 22, 2009

Just to clear a few things up . . .

First, "pressing charges" is informal; the government may decide to proceed whether you want to or not, though it is considerably less likely. If they have sufficient evidence to indicate that these guys collided, while driving a car, with another car, they may have an interest in proceeding -- regardless of your view of the matter, or whose car it was.

Second, the insurance company may or may not be all over this, but whether they take an interest in recovering your deductible depends on your policy.

Third, if they do not help you sufficiently, you may be able to sue them in tort (including for related damages, like rental costs, not covered by your policy). I think the tort may be conversion, but don't quote me on that.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:10 PM on January 22, 2009


Now what?

Call your insurance company, stay in touch with the cops, assemble as many eyewitnesses and their accounts as possible. Your insurance company will probably have pretty good lawyers, but find out if you need one. Definitely get one to go to the police with you.

How likely is it that the cops will find these guys guilty?

Not enough facts here, but keep working diligently.

If they do find them guilty, are the liable for my insurance deductible?

I don't think this is how the deductible works. Your insurance company will be able to recover much more if they file suit and are successful.

Can I press charges?

Yes, and you should. A criminal conviction will bolster the credibility of and help discover facts for any civil action against them.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:11 PM on January 22, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you for your answers.

I've called my insurance company and they seem to be on top of it.

Is there a way I could get the police or someone to look for fingerprints in the car? Is it even worth it?
posted by ad4pt at 6:19 PM on January 22, 2009

Is there a way I could get the police or someone to look for fingerprints in the car? Is it even worth it?

You don't need to tell the cops how to do their job. Primarily because you really don't know how to do their job.

Also, either a) they already know what to do or b) they'll be insulted by you telling them, and either way they'll do what they were going to do anyway.

The real world doesn't work like CSI.

Besides, at the end of the day you have a witness to these guys admitting that they stole it -- there is very little that is more compelling than that.
posted by toomuchpete at 6:25 PM on January 22, 2009

Hit and run might be serious. People are sometimes struck by cars and killed in "hit and run"s. Your story is currently second-order hearsay. If I were you I would try to figure out exactly what the hell happened that night and make sure the evidence is abundantly clear that you had nothing to do with it.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:27 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Strongly suggest you get a lawyer immediately, and don't say anything to them until you've discussed it with your counsel.
posted by arimathea at 6:29 PM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you are interviewed by the police, take your lawyer along.

Definitely. This could very quickly degenerate, especially if the hit and run is serious. You don't want to be on the hook for this.

Besides, at the end of the day you have a witness to these guys admitting that they stole it

Unless, of course, the guys corroborate an alibi for one another and the house owner decides she's not going to incriminate her friends, in which case we have the owner of the car involved in a potentially serious offence claiming "these guys ran off with my car" and these guys saying, "No, we didn't."
posted by rodgerd at 6:34 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lawyer up! Don't go talking to the police without a lawyer at your side. You are done talking to them without a lawyer. That lawyer could be one appointed to serve you by the insurance company, but that usually does not happen until a claim for damage is filed, and even then until it looks like litigation might be involved. Anyway, watch out. The cops are likely still suspicious that you were driving during the hit and run. Don't be a fool and talk to them about it without a lawyer present. If that lawyer does turn out to be the insurance defense person, just know that they will essentially provide only the most limited criminal defense help if any as that is not what they are being paid for by the insurance company. If things get hairy you will need to hire your own lawyer, and trust me, he or she will be worth the money.
posted by caddis at 6:36 PM on January 22, 2009

Incase the question comes up.... "Why do I need a lawyer? I didn't do anything wrong?"

James Duane, law processor, discusses why not to talk to the police.
posted by SirStan at 6:50 PM on January 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

Also, bear in mind that your insurance company's lawyer is not your lawyer.* Although it may be that you and your insurance company have mutually agreeable goals, it may also be that your insurance company's goals are somewhat different than yours.

Whether or not you should get a lawyer yourself is a difficult call to make from afar, but just be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that a lawyer who doesn't actually work for you is going to do what's in your best interest. They might, but they're going to do what's in their client's best interest if it comes down to that.

I watched some friends get into an ugly situation because they made the mistake of thinking that the insurance company's team of lawyers wouldn't simply walk away the second the insurance company got what it wanted. They were very wrong.

* Unless they make it explicitly clear to you that you are their client.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:48 PM on January 22, 2009

nthing that the insurance company's lawyer is NOT your lawyer and will be working in THEIR best interest, not yours.

Get a lawyer RIGHT NOW.

Do not talk to the police again without that lawyer being present.

This could get ugly very fast. you don't know what kind of property damage these clowns may have caused.
posted by micawber at 7:53 PM on January 22, 2009

Also, bear in mind that your insurance company's lawyer is not your lawyer.

Actually, when you get sued and they bring in a lawyer to defend you in that suit, that lawyer is your lawyer, not their lawyer. Exactly who is the client is a pretty important concept to lawyers and in this situation it is clear that the client is the insured, not the insurer. The insurer is merely the payer, although they usually do have much say over who is the lawyer and how much the fees will be. They are not the client, can not control the course of the litigation (except through the purse strings and even here it is limited somewhat), etc. The lawyer's duty to client is owed to the insured, not the insurer. This is the law. In reality, though, the insurer hires this lawyer again and again for multiple insured clients. They have a rapport, a mutual understanding which leads to a fruitful business relationship. Lawyers are human. well, I will say no more.
posted by caddis at 7:57 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

If they keys were in it the police think it was you (no, they're not going to admit tht to you but trust me on this) you need to be super-cooperative in giving up your 'friends' because otherwise it's going to look very bad for you.

Get a lawyer and then give a statement identifying your source, and the people they have named.
posted by tiamat at 8:46 PM on January 22, 2009

nthing "talk to a lawyer now, and don't talk to the police without one." The easiest way for them to 'solve' this case is to blame it on you, and if they pursue this route, anything you say, and even the fact that you are talking to them, can be used against you.

Find a lawyer now before the police decide this is serious, and before someone comes forward claiming injury or property damage. These scenarios may not happen, but I think in this case it is far better to be safe than sorry, as we cannot yet tell how bad the worst-case consequences might be.
posted by zippy at 8:53 PM on January 22, 2009

After re-reading your story, let me give the worst interpretation of it, the one that would allow the police the quickest route to closing this case. Please understand that this is not how I interpret your story, but instead is a worst-case scenario.

1) you were at the house with your car
2) you claim you "passed out," so you cannot personally verify where you were or what you were doing
3) perhaps you drove while intoxicated, but cannot remember
4) you returned to the house and ...
5) realized what you had done, regretted it, and invented a complicated, unlikely story to provide an alibi.

This is why I recommend you talk to a lawyer. You might also consider asking a mod to remove your name and some of the details from this story so that a hypothetical prosecutor can't use the line "I passed out" against you.
posted by zippy at 9:00 PM on January 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

If I were you, I'd heed the sound advice you've received about getting your own lawyer before talking to the police again, and I'd ask the mods to delete the thread for your own protection. Sorry you're in this mess, it sounds truly awful.
posted by vincele at 9:00 PM on January 22, 2009

Seems like most folks are over reacting a bit from my experience. Like they said, it's up to the District Attorney to decide when to charge anyone with a crime. It's up to a jury to decide guilt after a trial which is often unnecessary if a plea bargain is agreed to. Your request to "press charges" is basically you telling the DA you'll be willing/interested in testifying, but it's not really your decision.

As for them blaming you, it seems like that would be a challenging case - alibi witness (the party thrower), reported quickly, cooperation re: parties at fault, etc.

Sounds like a non-injury hit and run, usually not a big deal - just restitution to anyone whose property was damaged. If there's an injury things get harsher quickly. Along with many other conditions, but, yeah, we don't know your sitch.

Best luck dealing with it - insurance companies can be rough, if you feel you're getting a bum deal from them, contact your state government programs for dealing with insurers (commissioner, etc).

PS - fingerprinting the car? I'd guess they're not gonna even think about it unless there was an injury or significant property damage. But the fingerprint superglue spray is kinda cool, so there's that, eh?

PPS - this is absolutely not legal advise or information. And mefi isn't the place to get such.
posted by unclezeb at 10:03 PM on January 22, 2009

Asking for fingerprints may not be an unreasonable request. I had my car broken into a few times, and at least two of those times I was asked whether I wanted a police officer to come out and take prints.
posted by lunalaguna at 10:21 PM on January 22, 2009

If you want the car fingerprinted, you hire a lawyer who hires a PI who does the deed. You pay, and pay, and pay, but better you pay and be in control. The state, they have unlimited resources to pursue you, and if they think you are guilty, trust me, they will use them. It is not a fair game we are playing here. This is a pretty low rent crime so it isn't so bad, but just imagine that someone had been injured or killed in that accident. Oh boy.Without alibi witnesses to your whereabouts or other such evidence you would be looking at hard time and the state would be pulling out all the stops to get you. Scary.
posted by caddis at 10:29 PM on January 22, 2009

I was going to suggest hiring a PI, but you might want to nudge your insurance company and lawyer to do as well - unless someone was seriously hurt or a major crime was committed besides the car being taken and used in a hit and run, I doubt the police will care.

On the surface, though, this does sound like you did it, and are creating an elaborate story to get out of it... this is just how my skeptical head works when I read anything online. But also very likely how the PD and possibly even the insurance company are viewing it. Keep this in mind as you proceed, as others will be skeptical as well. Ideally, your friends will fess up quick to avoid serious criminal charges and court lawyer fees.
posted by Unsomnambulist at 12:59 AM on January 23, 2009

If the police have a car in their possession that was involved in a possible OUI and definite hit-and-run with destruction of property, along with a (potential) target of investigation (you), I can just-about guarantee you they have already fingerprinted not only the steering wheel, but also the keys themselves, the radio and probably the outside door handle and windows. You know how people open most car doors? Four fingers up and one big thumbprint down. That's how.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:41 AM on January 23, 2009

The police are not in the business of detective work. They think you did it because that it is the easiest thing to think and it requires the least work. They probably did no investigation whatsoever and the evidence linking the other two people to your car is probably ruined.

You need a lawyer because the police are going to pin this on you. Good luck.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:32 AM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

In my jurisdiction, an operator involved in a single vehicle accident and leaving the scene is only criminally liable for the equivalent of traffic tickets. Certainly actionable and carries criminal consequences, but likely very low on their priority list. Doing so in a stolen car? Much more serious.

The police are justifiably circumspect (bitter? jaded?), in that it seems likely someone who tried to drive home drunk and caused some damage could try to avoid blame by reporting the car stolen after the fact. The only evidence they have that it was stolen comes from the owner. True, there may be other witnesses available. There may be forensic evidence. But that requires work that might not lead to a different conclusion. Work that may only lead to filing a traffic ticket. Even if they do find plenty of evidence of the car being stolen, how strong will that evidence be?

Having your own lawyer is definitely good advice. Do you still work at the law office you mentioned in your last question? Couldn't hurt to hit one of them up for some free advice and a referral.

Is this common?

It is unfortunately way more common for people involved in vehicular crimes to report their car stolen.
posted by GPF at 8:12 AM on January 23, 2009

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