Grand Theft Auto: Westport Edition

Lots of cars look alike these days. Lots of them don’t even need keys to start. And lots of us have lots of things on our minds.

That can be a dangerous combination, as Evan Stein learned this weekend.

Here’s his car theft story — with a part-O. Henry, part-Westport twist.

I went to the beach on Saturday. Put on sunblock, had a nap and listened to podcasts. My wife Jenny went for a walk.

Evan Stein took this selfie Saturday at Compo Beach.

At 2:45 my alarm went off. I packed up our stuff and put it in the back seat of my parents’ car, which I borrowed because I don’t have a beach sticker this year.

When the stuff was in the car, Jen got back from her walk. We did a lap around the marina, and walked back to our car.

We headed across town to my parents’ house, about 10 minutes away. As we pulled into the driveway, I reached up to open the garage door buttons.

The buttons weren’t there.

I puzzled over this for a moment, then said to Jen, “I think this might not be our car.”

She said, “Of course it isn’t. We borrowed your parents’ car.”

I said, “No. I mean, I don’t think this is their car!”

I had driven to the beach in a Toyota SUV. I now drove an Infiniti SUV.

Evan Stein sent along this approximation of the 2 SUVs.

It was the same color. Same basic shape. But there had been clues. There were more cameras as we backed out of the space at the beach. There was a map on the screen as we drove home. There were 2 beach stickers. My father does not leave extra stickers on the windshield.

And as we looked around, we saw children’s seats in the back. Thank G-D there were no sleeping kids!

Then there was a purse by Jen’s feet. It was not her purse.

The culprit.

Presumably, there was a key fob in the purse. How else could the car have started?

I pulled into the driveway. I told my parents we were home. But I said we had to go back to the beach. We had taken someone else’s car.

My dad followed us to Compo. When we arrived, the couple whose car we had taken were talking to the Westport Police.

I pulled into a spot by the showers. I got out and apologized for taking the car.

The officer took my name and phone number. He seemed more focused on reminding the couple to not leave their keys in the car.

My father and I walked back to his car. I drove us home.

“Grand Theft Auto” challenge unlocked. Fortunately, without an arrest.

The morals of the story: Don’t leave your key fob in your car. And pay attention!

17 responses to “Grand Theft Auto: Westport Edition

  1. Jack Backiel

    An absolutely fobulous story.

  2. Matthew Mandell

    Last week I went to A&S Fine Foods. I came out and tried to get into my car. The door would not open. I kept trying. I clicked my fob and heard the beeps. I was puzzled. Then I look at the next car over, that was mine, same make, model and color. Now if the door was open and the fob in it, no doubt away I would have gone.

  3. Made me laugh out loud this morning. Totally something I would do. Thanks for the story Dan!

  4. Cristina Negrin


  5. Laurie Crouse

    OMG!!! Thanks for sharing this cautionary tale!!

  6. My grandfather once drove almost all the way from a shopping mall in Long Island to his Brooklyn apartment in someone else’s nearly identical blue ’64 Chevy wagon. In those days, you could pull the key out of a Chevy’s ignition in either the “off” or “lock” position.

    When just in “off,”, you could start the car with any key, or even just your fingers. Fortunately, Grandpa felt like having a smoke while driving, and couldn’t find his cigars where he usually left them. That led him to a more thorough examination of the car’s interior, finding unfamiliar belongings in it. So, he drove back to the mall and made the switch; the other driver was still shopping so he or she was none the wiser!

  7. Also worth noting is that most keyless cars, once started, will continue to run without the fob. Until switched off. Scenario: You drive your S.O. to one appt, he/she gets out with the fob in their pocket/purse, and you then drive on to another errand, where you park, switch off, and are then stuck.
    Some cars would sound a warning when the S.O. got out, some would not.

  8. Thanks, Dan, for running this story and to everyone commenting for all of their interest and their similar experiences.

    Despite my amused tone in my original post on Facebook, I wanted to make it very clear here, on a Westport blog, that I am very thankful for the understanding nature of those I inconvenienced and to the police officer who understood how sorry I was for the genuine first world error and only took my information in case he needs to contact me in the future.

    I plan on being at Compo pretty regularly on weekends during the summer. I plan on being very cautious as to which car I take home in the future.

  9. Steve Stein

    As Evan’s father I must add- I laughed all the way back to Compo Beach with Evan- I think Evan was also laughing!

    I kept telling him not to get a scratch on the Infiniti at every intersection and stop sign. We mused that if we got stopped by the police on the way back to the beach in a stolen vehicle we could say it was the 80 year old Westporter’s fault (they wouldn’t put me in jail- would they?) or that we were say we were two distracted MDs discussing tough cases and not paying attention (something that happens often with Evan).

    Evan didn’t add in the story- that when we got to the beach- the husband thanked us for being the ones who took the SUV and bringing it back so quickly. He did ask if we put gas in it or had it washed. The lady only said said in a dismayed way – “I just cancelled all my credit cards.”

    But as I saw it- at least she had her SUV, wallet, key fob and license returned in pristine condition.

  10. Kathi Moran

    Great story and glad the ending was happy for all. Another cautionary note – a drive through our neighborhood was conducted by the Westport police on Sunday. It seems several neighbors’ cars were broken into on Saturday night…

  11. Michael Calise

    Not a new story many years ago two similar Cadillac’s in front of Calise’s Food Market were shared by unsuspecting drivers for a few days before discovery. No keys left in car, each had their own keys which worked in the other car!

    • Mary Schmerker

      That happened to Camaros owned by two friends of mine in the 1960’s They happened to be parked in our driveway, were the same color and they did figure it out almost immediately. I almost made the mistake with a rental car about three years ago. It was the old fashioned key entry and key start so the worst that happened was the owner approaching me in the parking lot and asking why I was trying to enter his car.

  12. Something similar almost happened to my mother a number of years ago, she had a 1991 Grand Caravan, light blue with wood trim and blue interior. She went to leave the supermarket and used the key to unlock her car, got into it, was about to take off and realized that her things weren’t where she expected… She had gotten into, and was about to drive off in someone else’s almost identical Grand Caravan! A number of the domestic automakers used the same key on multiple vehicles to save costs in the 60’s-90’s. Just so happened she found another with the same key as hers!

  13. Situational awareness is something this idiot does not possess.

    • Feel free to chat with my mom about my lack of situational awareness. In my defense, I thought it was my car and the car started. That was about as much awareness as I was devoting to the situation.

    • Steve Stein

      Hi Mr Pepp

      Your post reveals more about you than the blog says about people leaving a car unlocked with the key fob inside while trying to get a family settled at the beach or a person riding blissfully off into the sunset after an afternoon at the beach in someone else’s vehicle that looks very much like the one that was borrowed for the afternoon.

      Eleven to one responders talk about similar situations in their experience. I can add my own mis-car adventure experience with a rental auto many years ago. Now twelve to one!

      I will assume you may not have a license, drive a car, or just don’t travel very much and therefore have never had a similar experience. Or you may have just missed the reason why the blog post was submitted- a learning experience about car keys and lookalike cars that should be avoided- but fortunately has a happy ending .

      Evan offered a chat with his mom to attest to his level of awareness- I offer you that chat with his dad- you could add it to your to do list.

      I also can guarantee Evan has extremely well developed “situational awareness”! I think Dan can also attest to it!

      And if I remember correctly Evan may probably have some “situational awareness medals” to prove it!!

      Just saying-

      Evan’s dad

  14. Peter Evans

    If I read this correctly, the couple left the key fob and valuable items in the car, right? Unless these people live in a bubble, how could they possibly not know how stupid they were and how fortunate they were that things ended up working out favorably for them! The scumbag car thieves that have been hitting local towns for many months would love to know where this couple lives since they are evidently an “easy mark.”
    Hopefully a lesson has been learned.