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Crime & Courts

The story of one Anchorage car theft — as told by both victim and thief

Security officer Frank Hundley witnessed a vehicle theft in February 2017 outside the emergency room entrance to Providence Alaska Medical Center.  (Bill Roth / ADN)

On a cold Sunday afternoon, the glass doors to the Providence Alaska Medical Center emergency room slid open and two young women strode past each other.

It was Feb. 26, 2017, the beginning of a record year for car thefts in Anchorage. By 6:40 p.m., six vehicles had already been reported stolen across the city that day.

This is the story of the seventh, as told by the victim and the thief.

A quick run inside — and the car was gone

Trijanna Dejean, 22 years old and seven months pregnant, pulled her Ford Taurus to a stop just outside the Providence ER. She worked at the emergency room as a phlebotomist, but was stopping by that day on an errand.

"I was just running inside to get a prescription discount card," Dejean said. She left the car idling a few yards from the hospital doors, KFAT hip-hop humming in the speakers.

The silver 2007 Taurus was the first car Dejean bought with her own money. Her 4-year-old's child seat, empty today except for a peppering of Cheetos, sat latched in the back.

Surely, the car was safe here at her place of work, she thought. A security office, blinds drawn with cameras eyeing the parking lot, lurks just beside the emergency room entrance. Everything is recorded.

"Cabs pull up there all the time and get out," she said.

Dejean needed to walk a few paces to the emergency room counter and hurry back to the driver's seat. But when she emerged from the ER moments later, she said, the car was gone.

"I was like 'Oh my God, did I park here?' Did I just have pregnancy brain right now?" she said.

Dejean briefly walked the parking lot, disbelieving. "OK," she realized. "The car is not here."

Nearby, in the shoe-box-shaped security office, a former California police officer named Frank Hundley soon heard Dejean pounding on his door.

Security officer Frank Hundley talks about the February 2017 vehicle theft at Providence Alaska Medical Center. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Hundley looked up at the checkerboard of surveillance monitors just in time to see the taillights of the fleeing Taurus. He rewound the video. There was Dejean, and another woman, crossing paths beneath the red "emergency" sign.

"They passed each other right here in the entranceway," he said.

On the cameras, the second woman, a baby-faced brunette still wearing her hospital bracelet, hopped in the car and left.

'Don't leave your car running' 

Lumina Stefan, also 22, had just been discharged from the emergency room for a sprained ankle. She hurt her foot, she said, running from a blaring auto alarm in Fairview during a failed car-theft attempt earlier that day.

Stefan walked out of the ER and saw the idling, empty Taurus. She saw an opportunity — and took it.

"Any time I see a car that's running, I'm like, 'Oh they are done,'" Stefan said.

At this point in Stefan's story, some of the details differ from what the car owner and security guard remembered in interviews. Stefan said she believed the driver of the car was a man, for example. She also recalls having a cab voucher in her purse and isn't sure why she wanted the car in the first place.

Some of what she remembers is hazy. She was high on methamphetamine at the time.

Lumina Stefan made a selfie in a car she says was stolen.

Cocooned in her meth and heroin addictions, she gave no thought to prison sentences, she said, or to Senate Bill 91 or any of the cost-reward calculus that policymakers assume thieves weigh in the moment they decide to steal.

That came later, she said — in jail. "Never when you are in that moment," she said. "You don't really give a fuck what happens."

Stefan had been arrested before. Charged with trying to cash a stolen check for $400 — someone wrote "Merry Christmas!" in the memo line — the month before at a credit union on Northern Lights Boulevard.

On this day, consequences were the last thing on her mind. "I was in it, gone," she recalled.

Stefan headed to Wellness Drive, at the far end of the hospital parking lot, turned right and disappeared.

"Don't leave your car running, even if it is for just a split second," she said recently when asked if she had advice for Anchorage drivers.

Stefan said she doesn't know of active "chop shops" in Anchorage, but thieves might take a vehicle apart themselves — sell the muffler, sell the parts. Other times, the stolen cars are quickly handed off to other people, especially if the driver is getting paranoid about being caught.

"It can get passed around. I let my buddy drive the car a couple times," she said of the Taurus.

She had the car just three days.

Now 23, Stefan said in a phone interview recently that it wasn't the only time she stole a vehicle. Just the only time she was caught.

'She caused a lot of problems'

Stefan had barely left the hospital parking lot when Hundley, the security guard, called police. Before long, he was able to learn her name from patient records.

But Stefan was on the move. "Running around to trap houses. The car also served as a getaway car for boosters," she said, referring to retail shoplifters.

Precautions were taken.

"She took my license plate off," said Dejean, who missed work and wasn't able to get her son to school while missing the car.

The replacement plates were expired, however, and a police officer stopped the Taurus over at 10th Avenue and Medfra Street in Fairview on March 1. Stefan was in the front passenger seat. She admitted to taking and driving the car.

When Dejean retrieved the Taurus, she found her belongings gone, replaced by an assortment of Fred Meyer bags. New socks. Tools.

"Like they went on a stealing spree," she said.

The car smelled of drugs and Dejean was afraid to drive it for a week, she said. Later, she saw Stefan in court but the two women never spoke.

"I don't feel any type of retaliation or anything, but I would want her to know how much she affected families. I wasn't just a single person walking around. I was pregnant. I had another kid," Dejean said. "She caused a lot of problems."

Stefan remembers crying in court as Dejean talked about her experience as a car theft victim. "When I stole the car I didn't realize there was a booster seat in the back," she said. "You don't steal from people who have kids. You don't steal from single mothers."

"I started to feel really bad," she said.

Behind bars, Stefan began to think about what was next. She got herself on a waiting list for treatment in Anchorage, but no beds were available for six months. During that time, she was arrested twice more.

"It was all about drugs. I did everything because of the drugs," she said recently in a phone interview from Arizona, where she said her mother helped her find treatment.

"There's nothing like that in Anchorage that can help people that want to be helped," she said.

Stefan has been sober for 13 months, she said. She sees what people say about car thieves in the city, the online comments, and thinks they are missing the bigger solutions that might curb the auto theft epidemic.

"They don't need to be criticized or judged or put down," she said. "They need help."

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