When a valet parking attendant told Josh Gelle his car had vanished from a Newport Beach restaurant parking lot, his first reaction was to laugh and look for a hidden camera.
"They came up and said, 'We don't know how to tell you this, but we don't have your car,'" Gelle said.
But Gelle and his girlfriend, Jodie Abadie, weren't the target of a TV prank show.
While they were inside Joe's Crab Shack on West Coast Highway on Saturday night, a parking attendant handed over their keys to someone who claimed he'd lost his valet ticket, Abadie explained.
The unidentified man ended up driving off in Gelle's 2014 Mazda CX-9.
"It's a ridiculous situation," said Gelle. "It should never have happened."
Newport Beach police are investigating but department spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said she'd never heard of a similar crime in her time working in Newport Beach -- even with all the city's restaurants.
Detectives spoke with the valet attendant and other witnesses but haven't turned up the stolen SUV, she said.
While the search continues, Gelle and Abadie say they're frustrated.
The couple changed the locks on their Lake Forest home the night of the theft, and Gelle's workplace also resecured its offices, worrying that whoever took the car would try to use the other keys on the key ring.
"They gave away the entire key set," Gelle said.
Gelle said the valet service, LAZ Parking, paid to rent him a car and change his locks, but is now pushing him to work through his own insurance to get the car replaced.
"It just seems ridiculous to me. I didn't do anything wrong," he said. "I expect them to take the full brunt of everything here."
LAZ Parking representatives declined to discuss the incident but did issue a prepared statement.
"The safety and the service of our customers is our utmost priority," spokeswoman Mary Coursey wrote. "We take this incident very seriously, and once we have all of the facts we will act accordingly."
Jeremiah Dobruck writes for Times Community News