SYV Star Staff Report

When her husband woke her to ask where the car was, Brittany Butler was confused.

The Buellton resident had gone out the previous night to get something out of the Honda Accord, and she vividly remembered locking it when she was done.

“My husband usually drives that car, so it was funny I had to go into it. That’s why I remember locking it, because I am paranoid about that sort of thing,” Butler said.

When the police showed up, they asked if it could have been repossessed, or whether anyone else had a key.

“I told them no, it’s paid on time always, and no one else had a key. We hadn’t had it long since buying it from the dealership in Santa Maria, and since it was under warranty still we took it there for servicing a few times,” Butler said.

The car had been stolen, and it isn’t the only one that has been taken lately in the Santa Ynez Valley.

According to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, three vehicles have been stolen in Solvang this year and three in Buellton.

One of vehicles stolen in Solvang was recovered in Solvang, as was another vehicle that had been stolen from another jurisdiction. None of the cars stolen in Buellton has been recovered.

In all the Buellton cases, the reporting parties said their car doors had been locked and keys accounted for, though in one of the Solvang cases the doors were left unlocked and the keys were inside, according to sheriff’s officials.

Almost a week after Butler’s car was stolen, investigators told her that the vehicle and the suspected thief had been found in Madera County.

“They told me he was from Nipomo area and had taken my car to visit his estranged family. He had pulled off the road and was contacted by deputies up there. When they returned my vehicle, it was trashed. Apparently he was a drug addict and had been using (drugs) in the car as well. I still don’t understand how this happened,” Butler said.

According to court records, the suspect Steven Joseph Hayes, 33, was charged with felonies ranging from taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent, possession of a switchblade, possession of a controlled substance, and resisting a peace officer. He has been released on bail.

Butler said that the suspect had somehow broken into her vehicle without the alarm sounding by finding a “valet key” that was hidden in the car.

“How could he know that was there? It’s baffling, really. There wasn’t any broken glass, and if he had tried the old coat hanger trick, that should have sounded the alarm as well,” Butler said.

The couple park their vehicles directly below their bedroom window, so any alarm would have woken them, Butler said.

Butler said they got the car fixed up and then traded it in for another one, because they didn’t want to drive a car knowing that someone had done drugs in it.

“I have taken the valet key out, and hopefully this won’t happen again. It’s strange that so many car thefts have occurred in the valley lately. It’s not the same place I grew up in, that’s for sure,” Butler said.

The Sheriff’s Department advice for increasing vehicle security and owners’ peace of mind includes:

  • Locking vehicles
  • Having adequate lighting or motion-sensor lights
  • Not leaving keys inside vehicles
  • Keeping valuables out of sight.