DEPOE BAY — Karob Austin was surprised on Dec. 26 that the parking lot of his auto shop had been turned into an impromptu demolition derby yard.
“They came through about 7:30 p.m., and they were just doing cookies and bouncing off of cars,” Austin said. “Two of our customers’ cars got hit and might be totaled.”
That evening, a couple in a 2016 BMW X1 came from south Highway 101 into Depoe Bay, pulled into the parking area of Car Audio 101 & Auto Physician Depoe and ran into a parked vehicle before pulling forward and driving past a fence to smash into a pair of dumpsters, which were pushed forward into another parked car. The car then backed up, hitting a fence and parked trailer, before pulling out of the lot and fleeing south down Highway 101.
Austin was able to get security camera footage of what happened from a neighbor, but it was too dark to make out the license plate or make and model of the car. Austin said the footage also showed the driver and passenger, a man and a woman, changing places at one point.
But after surveying the scene, Austin did have another idea. He was able to collect debris broken off the offending vehicle, such as a mirror, and ran the part numbers to identify the make and model.
When Austin contacted the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, however, he said they promised to look into the incident on the following Monday, which would have been two days afterward. Austin said the member of the sheriff’s office he spoke to seemed confused at how he could have the make and model, but not the license plate number.
Austin said he understands how much the sheriff’s office has going on at this time, but said he was worried that the couple were from out of town and that they’d leave the area if not apprehended soon.
Austin began looking for the offending vehicle himself, turning to Facebook for help. Heading south, he traveled to Newport, where he eventually found a vehicle with matching damage parked at a motel after two hours of searching.
“We found the car all smashed up in a motel parking lot,” Austin said. “They were parked in the back, nice and inconspicuous so they wouldn’t be seen.”
Austin contacted the sheriff’s office and Newport Police Department and waited for authorities to arrive. He said the man eventually came out of the motel and began surveying and attempting to clean the interior of the vehicle. After a short time, Austin identified himself as the owner of the auto shop and told the man the police would be there soon.
The sheriff’s office confirmed via an email to the News-Times that Austin reported each stage of the incident and noted that Deputy Bruce McGuire was dispatched to the location where Austin found the offending vehicle and conducted an investigation.
The email states that as a result of the investigation, Roberto Delgado Mercado, 42, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Mitzi Cornwell, 45, of Tigard, were issued citations for the misdemeanor crime of failure to perform duties of a driver (property damage).
Austin said that during his interaction with the man, he confessed the couple was responsible and confirmed they had come from a bar before the incident, but Austin said by the time police caught up with them, there was insufficient evidence to charge them with an alcohol-related crime.
“I feel like this is sort of a happy ending to a really bad situation,” Austin said. “They almost got away, and who knows what they could have told their insurance company. I kinda feel like the community came together a bit to get something done, since my neighbor told me they saw it.
“But other than that, it feels like we really did the police work ourselves. The cops said it was crazy we managed to find all this information on our own, and the insurance company was baffled at the whole thing, too.”
Austin estimates the incident caused around $30,000 in damage to the parked vehicles, as well as minor damage to miscellaneous other pieces of property on the lot. While he’s confident the four insurance companies involved will likely sort out the damage to the vehicles, Austin said he will also be seeking compensation for the $5,000 in non-returnable parts for one of the vehicles he was scheduled to work on that is now totaled.