FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – It's not unusual during the winter for people to warm up their vehicles for a few minutes before they actually drive away from their homes, but Flagler County deputies are urging residents not to do so Wednesday amid the cold snap in Central Florida.
"With the unusually cold weather we're experiencing in Flagler County, it may seem tempting to start your car a few minutes early to warm it up before heading on your way," deputies said. "The Flagler County Sheriff's Office is warning against that, and for good reason."
The warning comes after a man had his vehicle stolen from his Palm Coast driveway around 7 a.m. Wednesday as it was heating up for him to use it, deputies said.
Deputies said the man reported the theft after he watched someone drive off in his vehicle, prompting authorities to begin searching for it.
A mailbox was torn to bits and run over after deputies said the crook took off out of the driveway.
"It's scary because I warm up my car to go to the hospital to be a nurse at 6 a.m., and I was going to do that yesterday and I didn't," one neighbor said.
Deputies said it was a crime of opportunity.
Dispatch: "What is your emergency?"
Caller: "Somebody stole my car. They just left here with it."
Dispatcher: "Did you see the people?"
Caller: "No, they were pulling out of the driveway as I walked outside. I started it to get warm, I literally walked inside and they pulled up in another car."
After alerting nearby counties and using Bluetooth technology to track it, Daytona Beach police found the vehicle still running without anyone in it, deputies said. Authorities said the victim's backpack and laptop were stolen from inside and the vehicle's rearview mirror had been ripped off, causing the windshield to crack.
Police did not find the person who allegedly took the vehicle.
Sheriff Rick Staly said the owner was fortunate to get the vehicle back with little damage, but is asking others to consider the theft as a lesson.
“Getting into a cold car is better than getting your car stolen,” Staly said. “Dress appropriately for the weather and plan to stay in your vehicle until the windows are defrosted and it is safe to drive."
Deputies said most of the vehicles stolen within the county had the keys inside at the time of the theft.
A neighbor told News 6 it was around 6 a.m. Wednesday when her boyfriend heard a loud boom outside.
"He heard a car go down the street and rev up the engine real high, but when my mom left for work at 8 a.m., the mailbox was in the median," she said.
Deputies are now warning people to not leave their car running and unattended while it warms up; you're better off just being cold.
"It makes me not want to come outside anymore, honestly," she said.
Authorities are asking residents to help prevent these types of crimes by removing valuables and keys from their vehicles and locking the doors.
Deputies are warning people to not risk it and dress for the weather, and wait to drive until the windows defrost.