Steering wheel comes off, foils Berkeley car theft attempt

A man and woman in a stolen car failed at two car theft attempts Monday morning — but still managed to evade capture.

Steering wheel comes off, foils Berkeley car theft attempt
The steering wheel came off during an auto theft attempt in Berkeley on Monday morning. Scanner Insider

Everything seemed to go wrong for a couple in a stolen car who (briefly) took a second car from a Berkeley resident on Monday morning.

A community member who caught much of the incident on video shared it with The Berkeley Scanner after contacting police.

As captured on video, both car thieves — one in a black Kia and one in a gray Hyundai — arrived on Seventh Street heading north only to find their way blocked by an EBMUD crew doing repair work at Camelia Street.

Video footage shows both drivers approach Camelia Street and then reverse back down the block, with the black Kia coming to a stop in front of a driveway and the gray Hyundai stopping in the middle of the road.

Several tense moments follow, with neither car moving and one car repeatedly honking, making quite the racket.

"My husband looked out of the window and thought there was a road rage (incident) happening between the two cars," the woman who shared the story told The Scanner.

As it turned out, the person in the stolen Kia was likely attempting to remove a wheel lock from the steering wheel, inadvertently honking the horn as he worked.

Instead of removing the wheel lock, the entire Kia steering wheel came off.

It was about that point when the woman from Seventh Street got home from school drop-off to find two unfamiliar cars on her block at about 7:45 a.m.

"They realized that I was trying to get into my driveway," she said. "They were stuck between the blocked intersection and me."

One of her videos shows the seemingly dejected young man get out of the parked Kia, which he left running, and get into the waiting Hyundai.

The getaway car then left via an EBMUD detour that required a right turn — a maneuver the Kia had been unable to make with the wheel lock attached.

"I got out of my car to see if the guy was going to come back and move the car, but my husband came out of the house and saw the car with no steering wheel," the resident said. "He knew it was a stolen car straight away."

Read more about crime in Berkeley.

As BPD was arriving on Seventh Street, a local auto shop called police to report a possible auto burglary attempt involving the same gray Hyundai about 1 mile away in the 2200 block of San Pablo Ave.

A blond woman in her 20s was driving the car, the caller told Berkeley police. She had a man with a skinny build in the passenger seat.

The driver went east on Bancroft Way from San Pablo.

Police were unable to stop the car despite a quick response to the area.

Getaway car had also been stolen in Berkeley

BPD later classified the incident outside the auto shop as a vehicle theft attempt.

Police also determined that the gray Hyundai — the getaway car — had been stolen from Stuart Street and Benvenue Avenue in the Elmwood neighborhood over the weekend.

The black Kia had been taken from the 1600 block of Seventh Street, two blocks south of where it was abandoned, just before it had become disabled, police said.

The Kia owner had called to report a suspicious vehicle outside when a loud noise caught her attention.

"As soon as she looked outside her window, she saw her car drive off," the woman who had recounted the whole story told The Scanner. "She called BPD immediately and … I called with the same stolen car soon after her, so BPD was on the case immediately."

Berkeley car thefts continue to trend up

Berkeley had more than 1,300 car thefts last year, which was a 58% increase over 2022.

Unfortunately, auto thefts in Berkeley are still on the rise: There have already been more than 200 cars stolen in 2024 — which is a 24% increase over last year to date, according to BPD's Transparency Hub data portal.

If you've been impacted by crime in or near Berkeley, The Scanner would like to hear from you.