Lem Pace pulled into the parking lot of the Mormon Church on South Ponderosa Street earlier this month to attend a two-hour church conference. By the time the conference was over, car thieves had stolen his 1988 Chevrolet Caprice.
"I'm 82 years old," he said. "You have no idea how much it wreaks havoc on the life of someone who gets their car stolen."
It's a situation that's happening more frequently in Payson, according to Payson Police Det. Steve Johnson.
"We've had 20 or more cars stolen in the last six months," he said. "That's a phenomenal amount for Payson."
Another recent auto theft occurred in the Safeway parking lot. Johnson said the clerk actually saw his rear taillights illuminate. The man approached the vehicle, telling the driver to get out, then went to call the police. By the time he returned, his car was gone.
"His vehicle was later recovered at the end of East Granite Dells Road, with the stereo equipment ripped out," Johnson said.
The detective said there doesn't appear to be any common denominators in the thefts they have not involved any one particular make or model of automobile; the cars are not being stolen from any one particular area of town; and the ones that are recovered are found in different condition.
"Some just have had the car stereos stolen out of them," he said.
Others, like Pace, were not as lucky. His Chevrolet was found in the Valley by the Maryvale Police.
"It had been damaged, the steering column was torn up," Pace said. "The front bumper was damaged and the windshield was smashed. It looks like they hit something that rolled up the hood."
Other than the damage, Pace said the suspects left half a case of beer in the back seat before abandoning it.
Because many of the auto thefts have been of vehicles that were locked, Johnson said there's not a lot more an owner can do to protect his car.
"There are anti-theft devices, like The Club, that lock onto the steering wheel," he said. "Those are fairly effective. If there are two cars next to each other, and one has The Club, they'll go for the one that doesn't every time."
Johnson also encourages residents to stay on the alert.
"If you see something suspicious, pay attention to it. Call the police," he said. "Often times, something is happening, and you see it happening, but it doesn't register."
To report any suspicious activity, contact the Payson Police at 474-5177. For emergencies, call 911.