A retired Mesa couple received a surprise gift last week worth $18,000: They got their stolen truck back in good condition.
"We didn't think we would ever get the truck back," said Lori Gibbs, 44, who lives with her parents and cares for them. "It's a 2006 Sierra in great condition, and we thought we were never going to see it again."
Gibbs and her parents, Bernice and Alfred Lawson, are among the lucky few.
Maricopa and Pinal counties consistently rank among the nation's top regions for auto theft, and fewer than half of all stolen vehicles are recovered..
Mesa police spokeswoman Diana Tapia said 4,760 vehicles were stolen in Mesa alone in 2006.
Vehicles that are recovered are often heavily damanged. But Bernice, 68, and her 71-year-old husband, Alfred, got a break when their stolen truck made its way to Douglas in Cochise County.
Douglas police work with the federal government in a project called Operation Stone Garden to recover stolen vehicles, as well as stop illegal immigrants and drug traffickers.
"We probably recover more stolen vehicles than anyone else," Douglas police officer Marcus Gonzalez said.
He said most stolen vehicles in Arizona are taken to Mexico, where they are sold at discounted prices.
"The profit isn't much," Gonzalez said. "Maybe car thieves get $500 for a vehicle that is worth much more than that."
The Lawsons reported their truck stolen Aug. 27.
Gibbs said her mother loaned the vehicle to a family friend who said he would help make loan payments after Alfred Lawson had a stroke in January and money became tight.
Gibbs said the family friend, Stephen J. O'Donnell, was unable to make the truck payments after losing his job and agreed to return the truck.
Instead, she said his phone was disconnected Aug. 27 and he disappeared with the vehicle. That's when the family called Mesa police and reported the truck stolen.
Douglas police stopped O'Donnell Sept. 4 as he was driving toward the Mexican border faster than the posted speed limit, according to the police report. The report shows that O'Donnell was arrested on suspicion of vehicle theft.
"It's almost a day-to-day event here," said Barbara Rodriguez, a records clerk with the Douglas Police Department.
Gibbs said her family is grateful the truck was recovered in good condition, although it had 20,000 extra miles and one punctured tire.