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Man crushed to death while apparently trying to steal a catalytic converter

(KTLA) A man suspected of trying to steal a vehicle’s catalytic converter in Anaheim died after the car fell on him Wednesday, police said.

Officers responded to a report of a deceased man in the 1600 block of North Placentia Avenue just before 6:30 a.m., according to Anaheim Police Department Sgt. Shane Carringer.

The man was apparently in the process of stealing the catalytic converter when the jack failed, crushing the would-be thief to death, Carringer said.

The car was the property of a local business, and it was an employee who discovered the deceased man under the vehicle, the sergeant added.

Sean Harp, who works at the complex where the incident occurred, was in his office at 6 a.m. when a “pretty frantic” person came in to alert him that he had found a dead man beneath the car, a Toyota Prius. They called 911.

Harp went out and saw the man’s “torso underneath the vehicle with his feet and … legs exposed,” he told a news photographer at the scene. “It was evident that he was crushed.”

Authorities aren’t sure how long the man’s body had been there. They have not identified him yet.

A small scissor jack appeared not to have been secured well enough, according to Harp. He also saw a tool pouch with a cordless Sawzall near the vehicle.

That’s “really indicative of people going in underneath vehicles and just cutting parts off that they need and selling it,” Harp said.

He noted that the complex has seen a rash of catalytic converter thefts in recent weeks.

A man who owns a nearby auto repair said two of the vehicle exhaust emission control devices were stolen from his mechanic shop about two weeks ago. The business owner, who identified himself only as Juan, described the kind of thefts as worrisome.

Catalytic converters are targeted because they contain precious metals, which can be scrapped and sold to make a quick buck, according to authorities.

Juan estimates the thieves can make about $200 from a converter, though different vehicles can yield other amounts of money.

“Poor man, who died for a catalytic converter. It wasn’t worth the risk,” Juan said to the news photographer in Spanish. “He lost his life for nothing.”

A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official told KTLA last week that the first generation Prius is among the more targeted cars. He explained that was probably due to its catalytic converter being known to contain more precious metal.

The region overall has seen a dramatic spike in such thefts of late, including in L.A. County where the figure has skyrocketed 400% last year compared to 2019, according to officials.

Nearly two dozen arrests tied to the recent recovery of hundreds of the stolen exhaust emission control devices were reported by two Southern California jurisdictions in the past week.

Last Wednesday, L.A. sheriff’s officials announced that 19 people had been arrested and 250 catalytic converters recovered in an operation that targeted multiple locations in the county. The stolen devices were estimated to be worth $750,000.

And on Saturday, three people who were believed to be part of a “large-scale catalytic theft ring” were arrested by the San Bernardino Police Department, authorities said. Approximately 150 of the stolen devices were found at a home, along with tools used to cut metal and more than $180,000 in cash.

A catalytic converter and power saw were also found last Friday in a Dodge Ram 1500 that crash landed in a backyard swimming pool in Garden Grove, killing both occupants in the truck, according to police.

The pickup was fleeing from law enforcement when it collided with another vehicle, killing the other driver who officials say was an innocent bystander.