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Catalytic converters, car parts stolen from Savannah nonprofit serving people with disabilities

Published: Jun. 13, 2021 at 11:21 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The price of precious metals is rising, and crooks are looking to cash in. The WTOC Investigates team has been tracking the thefts of catalytic converters, which contain valuable, rare metals like rhodium, which has nearly doubled in value. An ounce of rhodium is currently worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Catalytic converter thefts have been happening across Coastal Georgia. Since last year, the number of thefts have gone up in Savannah and Chatham County. A local non-profit agency recently had 14 catalytic converters stolen from its vehicles.

Even more disheartening, the nonprofit’s main goal is to help people with disabilities by training them for careers and transporting them to and from work.

“It’s something that you just can’t even fathom. You really can’t,” said Brendan Ferrara, CEO and President of EmployAbility.

Ferrara says 14 catalytic converters were stolen from vans they use to transport people they serve.

“We’ve got a fleet of 16 vans and 11 of those vans had catalytic converters that were stolen,” he said.

Their Facilities and Transportation Director Michael Calonita noticed something was wrong after hearing a strange noise come from one van from outside the building.

“I came out, hoping it was just his van and then I started testing all the other vans and just one by one, I noticed they were cut,” said Calonita.

According to a police report filed with Savannah Police, the converters appeared to be cut off with a saw. Ferrara says some of the vans also had other parts that had been stolen.

“Those vans really represent a lifeline to the community for the program participants. Without those vans we’re unable to get people to and from campus,” said Ferrara,

Now they’re looking to raise $30,000 to replace the converters and put up a fence to prevent thefts like these from happening again. So far, they’ve received an outpouring of support from the community and hope it will continue.

“We serve a population that’s really undeserved in most communities, so everyone knows who we are, they love what we do and knowing that most of them take transportation just like a school bus, kids take the bus to school, we take them here and without that, that lifeline isn’t available so it’s great the community is coming together,” said Calonita.

According to the police report filed with Savannah Police, officers dusted for fingerprints but were unsuccessful. There is no video footage of the theft.

Ferrara says they were still able to get people to and from the nonprofit, but the theft did cause some delays.

If you’d like to give to EmployAbility’s emergency fundraiser, click here.

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