Car theft causes loss on trip to Ireland

Bill and Melissa Stevenson’s rental car and luggage were stolen in Dublin, Ireland on Jan. 19. The Stevensons had been in Ireland with Cornerstone University’s J-term trip and were planning to fly back to the United States that day.

Although the theft delayed their return trip by just one day, the loss of most of what they had taken with them on the trip has some larger consequences, estimated at $4,000-$6,000.

The John Brown University credit card the couple had used to rent the car was also maxed out at $6,600 by Budget car rental for the theft.

Bill Stevenson, director of international programs, said he had driven the car, loaded with their checked luggage and his carry-on, from the parking garage to the lobby door of the hotel. Melissa was still in the hotel room, getting ready to leave. It was about 6 a.m. and dark outside.

Stevenson went to the back of the car to rearrange some things. As he was standing there, the car started rolling forward. He said he realized what was happening when the car continued accelerating away. He could see a man inside of the car.

Just then, a taxi pulled up to the hotel. Stevenson jumped in and told the driver to follow the rental car. After a couple of miles, Stevenson said, he realized it was a lost cause. The rental was a 2011 Ford Focus, and the taxi was a much older model that was just “putting along.”

Meanwhile, Melissa had come down to the lobby and wondered why she couldn’t find Stevenson. She walked toward the parking garage, but the hotel bellman stopped her and suggested she come back to the hotel. She asked him where Bill was, and he told her there had been some trouble.

Stevenson soon arrived back at the hotel in the taxi and explained to Melissa what had happened. He said she took the situation well. He added he was thankful that no one was hurt and that Melissa had not been in the car when it was stolen.

The couple called the Garda, the Irish police, to report the theft. The hotel did have closed circuit cameras, so the police were able to see the video of what had happened. It showed a man coming from behind a nearby tree and jumping in as Stevenson stood at the back of the car.

Stevenson said both Delta airlines and immigration were “amazing.” Delta rebooked the couple’s flight for the next day and upgraded them to business class at no additional cost. He said Ireland is one of only four or five foreign countries that have a U.S. immigration office. The officers issued emergency documents so the Stevensons could get through customs, since they had lost all of their identification with the car.

Budget, the company they had rented the car from, was “brutal,” Stevenson said. Despite having purchased the full insurance for the car, Stevenson’s University card was charged for the theft. Budget said Stevenson had been negligent for leaving the keys in the ignition of the car. Stevenson said he hoped to use the video footage from the hotel to show that he had not left the car unattended.

Stevenson said he learned from the experience that it is worth it to pay extra money for a hotel in a safer part of town. The police had told him that the theft was probably drug related and that the car would probably be abandoned in 48 hours. The car was found on Jan. 30, and Budget refunded the credit card charge.

Although the car was recovered, none of the Stevenson’s personal belongings were inside. Stevenson said one of the worst things to lose was his 2006 journal. Other items that did not have as much unique value but that take time and money to replace included things such as medications, clothing, shoes, and the luggage itself. There were also University-purchased items such as a laptop computer, a camera, and cell phones.