Calgary man says ‘brazen’ van theft from his driveway provides cautionary tale

Christian Harries says his idling van was stolen from his driveway while he was running in and out of his house, packing for a ski trip. (Supplied by Christian Harries)

Christian Harries says he’s the first to admit he should never have left his van running with the keys in it earlier this month.

But the Calgary K-9 school principal says he thought those repeated police warnings applied to vehicles idling outside a convenience store or a shopping mall — not in his driveway in southwest Calgary while loading up his van for a family ski trip.

“This was so brazen, this was so brave,” said Harries.

He says he will accept some blame for this crime of opportunity, and is thankful to police for quickly finding the family van, but he is nonetheless upset with what was left inside his 2006 Honda Odyssey by the thieves and not removed by police.

The material included what appeared to be various stolen items, drug paraphernalia, a knife, some of the thieves’ personal possessions and garbage. 

“It’s a van that was lived in by several people doing all kinds of criminal things inside, and storing all that criminal doings within the van, and I’m just blown away that this was left for us to deal with.” 

Christian Harries says he is thankful to have his van returned but was not prepared to deal with all the items left behind by the thieves. (Christian Harries)

Harries says he expected that police would have removed all the items from the van and processed them as evidence.

CBC News reached out to Calgary Police Service to comment. In a statement, they say, in part:

“While we understand that it can be upsetting to have unwanted and concerning items left behind in a recovered vehicle, it is not standard procedure for police to clean out recovered stolen vehicles before the vehicle can be retrieved by the rightful owner.” 

So Harries is now sharing his story in the hopes others will know what can happen when you leave your idling vehicle unattended for a moment.

Thankful, then befuddled

Harries says the theft happened around 7:15 a.m  on Dec. 5 while he was running in and out of his house, loading ski poles, snowboards and other winter gear for a Sunday on the hill in Nakiska with his family of five.

At one point, he was in the house grabbing food when his daughter went outside to hop in the warming vehicle. He says she quickly returned pale-faced saying the van was gone.

“I just said, ‘What the F?'”

Two days later, police spotted the Odyssey parked outside a southeast Calgary restaurant in the early morning hours. They say it was occupied and one person was arrested and is now facing charges.

Harries says police left a few messages on his cellphone that same morning letting him know they had found his van and where it could be picked up.

These are items recovered by staff at a detailing business after Harries took his van in to get cleaned. (Supplied by Christian Harries)

Immediately he felt relief and gratitude because he didn’t have auto theft insurance and the van was the family’s main vehicle. 

But he says those warm, fuzzy feelings cooled after his wife and father went to get the van while he was at work.

When they opened the door, they were overpowered by a stench, which Harries describes as a mixture of methamphetamines, urine and gasoline. He says there were two jugs of gasoline left in the van.

And Harries says not only were their boots, skis and gear gone — worth more than $5,000, he says — they were forced to deal with backpacks full of other people’s belongings and drug paraphernalia.

“On the driver’s seat were crack pipes, a big knife, some food, and inside the car was drug paraphernalia, straws … criminal items for breaking into cars and just tons of bags containing all kinds of things,” said Harries.

Potential evidence 

Harries says one of the lot attendants removed a knife and a crack pipe from the driver’s seat before his wife got in. 

Harries says he then called police to let them know about the rest of the potentially dangerous and possibly evidentiary items left behind by the suspects.

He says he ended up putting on a mask and gloves to haul everything out of the van and pile it onto his driveway, including a new baseball glove, watch, clothing and unopened cosmetics and perfume.

He says there were also some vehicle registrations, more glass pipes and a notebook containing lists of addresses — with some asterisked saying “tend to be shoveled” or “have walks around the front.”

A patrol car came by later that night to pick up the items. 

The next day, Harries took the van in for detailing and they found another crack pipe, tire iron and ski goggles.

Police unsure of property ownership

Calgary police tell CBC News they were able to confirm the knife was a pocket knife and it wasn’t known if it belonged to the vehicle owner.

As for why the rest of the items weren’t initially removed, they say the victim’s police report indicated the vehicle was full of belongings such as skis, and officers did not know which items found in the vehicle belonged to the owner. They also said none of the items were illegal.

CPS also said that the diary of addresses did not contain any other additional information that would prove those homes were intended targets for crimes.

“Officers could have put a hold on the vehicle for further examination, which would have taken approximately one week or longer, but officers felt the priority was to get the vehicle returned to the rightful owner as quickly as possible,” the statement said.

Harries has since filed a complaint about the handling of his case to the professional standards section hoping for more accountability and sensitivity by police for what the family has gone through. 

He believes the responding officers should have better inspected the van prior to releasing it to the family, whether it would have taken more time or not, to ensure the van was safe to use and any evidence was collected.

He also believes they should have given him better guidance when he raised concerns about the van’s contents.

But bottom line, he says, is drivers beware.

“This is a crazy story, and it’s a case of, folks, not only don’t leave your car running to warm it up, but you’ve got to have your eyes on a running car at all times.”

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