Renton police say a series of inadvertent cellphone calls to emergency dispatchers by suspected thieves while they were searching for cars to prowl has led to the arrest of one man.
The first call was placed on March 14 to Valley Communications, the emergency dispatch center for several South King County law enforcement and fire agencies. The dispatch center’s call receiver got no answer when she tried to determine the nature of the call, but she heard voices in the background, according to a Renton police news release.
The call receiver realized that the call was an open-line call, also known as a “pocket dial,” or “butt dial.” She believed that the males she heard on the other end of the call were looking for cars to steal, Renton police said. The 911 system showed that the call came from downtown Renton.
The males remained on the line for 44 minutes as they apparently drove through the Renton area and discussed what kind of cars to target, and what kind of property they could get from the cars, police said. The main voice heard on the call belonged to a male who instructed the driver on how to position their vehicle so he could jump out, “jiggle the key” and take the car, according to police.
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Police were unable to locate the source of the call. However, when Renton police Officer Wayne Blackard responded to a report of a stolen Toyota 4-Runner from downtown Renton a few hours later, he realized that the theft was likely related to the earlier 911 call, police said.
Four days later, Valley Communications received two additional 911 calls from the same phone number. In one call, the same male voice was heard arguing with another male as the sound of a racing car engine could be heard in the background, police said. The male could be heard discussing the same 4-Runner that had been stolen following the first call, according to police.
The call receiver dispatched police to find the vehicle by tracking the call. Officer Eric Stevens found an abandoned Honda which had been reported stolen earlier in the day from Burien, police said.
On April 1, police were sent to an apartment complex in the Renton Highlands after dispatchers received a fourth inadvertent 911 call from the same cellphone. An officer spotted an occupied car in the lot. One of the passengers, 40-year-old Wesley Strom, told Stevens that his cellphone sometimes called 911 for no apparent reason, police said.
Stevens confirmed that Strom’s cell number matched all four of the 911 calls, and that Strom lived next to the site where the stolen Honda had been found. He also learned that Strom had a warrant for his arrest.
Strom was arrested and charged with possession of the stolen 4-Runner and the stolen Honda. He remains in custody in lieu of $70,000 bail.