The newspaper’s attention was drawn to this new atrocity after firefighters were called to put out a motorcar blaze at a house in New Kingston early last Wednesday morning.
The cause of that fire has not been determined, but the firefighters were reportedly overheard telling the householder that six similar fires were reported in Portmore that night.
When the Sunday Observer contacted Emilio Ebanks, the fire department’s spokesman, he said he could not confirm that six such fires were reported early Wednesday morning. However, he admitted that he had heard of thieves torching motor vehicles.
“It is not something that we can confirm; that would have to come from the police, but I’ve heard of it,” Ebanks said. “I’ve heard about one in Portmore and a few in Spanish Town, but as I said, it’s nothing that we can confirm.”
On Friday, Superintendent Terrence Sanko, who is stationed in Portmore, told the Sunday Observer that he was aware of one such incident in that municipality last week. However, he could not speak about others without checking police reports and agreed that he would make the checks and speak to the newspaper yesterday morning.
But repeated attempts to contact him again yesterday were unsuccessful as calls to his cellphone went to voicemail.
Yesterday, Assistant Commissioner of Police Elan Powell said he, too, had heard about these motor vehicle fires but could not say if they were a trend.
“I am not aware of it being a trend across the island, but I certainly have heard of some of these cases in the Greater Portmore area,” he said.
Last Friday, a traffic cop confirmed the activities of the car thieves.
“What has been happening is, when they steal the cars, if, for instance, the car is equipped to shut down the engine after it is moved without the key, they set it ablaze in anger,” said the cop who requested anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.
He said that a few weeks ago one motorist, who has a theft alert system linked to his cellphone, found his vehicle burning after receiving the signal.
The cop also said he was aware of three recent cases in Portmore.
The police statistics department was not open yesterday when the Sunday Observer tried to get current auto-theft data.
However, in August 2010, the Sunday Observer reported Insurance Association of Jamaica (IAJ) figures showing that losses due to auto-theft amounted to $1.8 billion across the local insurance industry in 2009.
The IAJ statistics also revealed that, at the time, an average of four auto-theft cases were reported to insurance companies each day.