It was the ultimate crime of opportunity: a woman dropped off her vehicle for thorough rinse at a Simi Valley car wash Sunday, only to have it stolen by someone who pretended to be her.
But police said it was no clean getaway.
That morning, Cheryl Piper, a 56-year-old Simi Valley resident, said she decided to take her husband’s white Ford Fusion for a much-needed scrub and rinse at her local car wash before meeting a friend for brunch in Malibu.
As Piper waited inside Simi Auto Spa & Speed Wash, she looked out and noticed the doors were open to her husband’s car. Piper said she thought workers were still detailing the car, so she briefly looked down at her cellphone to send a text message.
“Literally, it was like two seconds,” she said.
When Piper glanced up, she saw the car driving off the property and quickly asked workers about its whereabouts.
At first, she thought someone accidentally drove off in her husband’s car. But dread soon set in for Piper.
“Then I thought, ‘On my God, the car is gone,’” Piper said.
According to Simi Valley police, a worker summoned a woman to pick up the sparkling car after it had been detailed.
The woman, posing as the vehicle owner, gladly accepted the keys and took off in the spotless car, police said.
But it did not take long for the worker to figure out the mistake and realize the woman “took advantage of an opportunity to illegally take a vehicle,” police said.
After police were notified, an officer spotted the stolen vehicle as he drove near the car wash at First Street and Los Angeles Avenue.
The vehicle was stopped and the driver, identified as Brenda Hendrix, was arrested, said Sgt. Craig Dungan, a police spokesman. The 33-year-old Simi Valley resident was booked into a Ventura County jail.
Piper said the woman had returned to the car wash to pick up her purse, which she left at the scene.
In the time between when the car was stolen and found, she said, the driver combed through the center console and ate snacks, leaving crumbs behind.
Piper said the owners of the car wash assured her they planned to implement new policies and procedures.
The car wash could not be immediately reached for comment.
But the ordeal has not deterred Piper from visiting a car wash in the near future, she said.
If anything, she said, the whole incident has enlightened her.
“I just thought, ‘What an easy way to steal a car,’” she said. “You never think about that. It’s so easy to do it.”