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Woman Talks Thief Out of Taking Auto

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A woman who caught an armed man stealing her Ford Explorer early Wednesday tumbled into the back for a wild ride, eventually persuading the thief to return the vehicle and even giving him a T-shirt to wipe it clean of fingerprints, police said.

Karen Pedersen, who owns a Huntington Beach auto body shop, said she relied on a strategy of incessant chatter, telling her accidental abductor that her babies were asleep at home and that her boss would fire her if she didn’t show up at work on time.

In the end, the thief fled with just the T-shirt.

“I thought, ‘My mouth has always gotten me into trouble before; maybe this time it can get me out of trouble,’ ” said Pedersen, 52. “I’m grateful to just be alive and talking. I would not recommend it to anyone.”

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Pedersen, who serves on Huntington Beach’s Fourth of July parade committee, said she was distracted Wednesday morning, running through details of the upcoming festivities.

She accidentally left her purse--with keys inside--in her garage and forgot to close the garage door when she went for a morning walk. She returned to her Heavenwood Circle home about 6:20 a.m. and popped the rear hatch on the 1991 utility vehicle, leaning inside to look for tickets to the city’s fireworks show. That’s when the Explorer’s engine turned over, the vehicle backed up and Pedersen landed inside with the gun-wielding thief.

“It was really a stupid thing I did, but I didn’t have a choice,” she said. “I was leaning into the back and my knees were extended. He basically said, ‘What the “f” are you doing here?’ and I said, ‘A better question is ‘What the “f” are you doing here?’ ”

Pedersen, who had shut the hatch so she wouldn’t fall out, said she suddenly realized that the rear door would not open from the inside--a safety feature that felt decidedly unsafe.

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“They start arguing,” said Huntington Beach Police Lt. Dan Johnson. “She says, ‘I gotta go to work. I’ve got kids at home that need me.’ And he says, ‘I got kids too. That’s why I’m stealing the car.’ ”

Pedersen’s two children are in their 20s, but she talked as if they were still on the bottle.

“I talked like they were really tiny kids,” she said. “I said, ‘My babies are at home. They’re going to wonder where I am.’ That’s when he said he had a boy and a girl, 3 and 5.”

Pedersen said the man pointed a small-caliber, blue-steel handgun at her and yelled for her to get out, but she told him she couldn’t unless he opened the door. Two thoughts crossed her mind, she said:

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“One thing was that if he did open up the trunk he might shoot me,” Pedersen said. “I also felt that if he left the area with me, no one would find me.”

Her babbling seemed to strike a chord.

“He sounded irritated with me more than anything else,” Pedersen said. “He said, ‘I can’t believe how this is going. This is like something out of the movies.’ ”

The thief told her he needed money to pay his rent. A friend, he said, had offered to sell a car for him if he would steal one.

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The man, Pedersen said, finally agreed to just get out, but first he wanted to take Pedersen’s keys and toss them. She said she talked him out of that too, saying her business keys were on the ring and her boss would go nuts if she lost her set.

When the man complained that he had already left fingerprints all over the car, Pedersen said, she tossed him a city Fourth of July T-shirt so he could wipe down the evidence.

“He said, ‘This is a really nice shirt,’ ” Pedersen said.

She let him keep it.

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Police described the man as about 25 years old, white, with black hair and a goatee. He was wearing a gray T-shirt and a black baseball cap and is wanted on charges of kidnapping, robbery and auto theft.

Johnson described Pedersen as remarkably lucky.

“I think if it had gone much longer, she would have talked him out of his money,” Johnson said.


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