Thieves steal van in front of owner

Thieves posing as festival volunteers steal van from owner in downtown Nanaimo.

Three men posing as festival volunteers stole a minivan out from under its owner’s nose on the weekend.

The theft happened at about 4:30 p.m. Saturday on Wesley Street while volunteers were cleaning up after the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association’s Multicultural Festival.

Kim Smythe, event organizer, said his wife, who owns the gold Toyota Sienna minivan that was stolen, was working with other volunteers unloading supplies and equipment from the vehicle to go into storage when three men working with them jumped in the van and drove off.

Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said a police search failed to turn up the vehicle, which hasn’t been seen since the theft.

“She walked into the storage space with an armload of stuff,” Smythe said. “She expected the volunteers would unload the stuff and follow behind her, as they had been doing and instead three volunteers – we thought they were volunteers – jumped in the van and took off with purses and cameras, cell phones, wallets and personal items.”

Smythe said there were hundreds of images from the event in the camera and his wife had to immediately cancel her credit and debit cards, plus it took about three hours to get their cell phones replaced.

Earlier in the day, one of the ‘volunteers’ came up and asked Smythe for a volunteer T-shirt.

“So I asked, ‘Who are you with?’ because he was looking a little dodgy and I didn’t recognize him as one of the volunteers who had been working with us during the day,” he said.

Smythe said he wasn’t coordinating the volunteers, but not wanting to disappoint someone who was helping out, sent him to another organizer for a T-shirt after the man assured him he was with the multicultural society.

Smythe said he tried to chase the van in his car, but without knowing which way it was headed any chase was pointless.

O’Brien said police are looking for three Caucasian men who were reported by witnesses to have smelled of liquor and marijuana. All were estimated to be between 45 and 50 years old. One had strawberry blonde hair and another was wearing a dark rain jacket.

Smythe said he will talk with organizers of upcoming events to make sure they upgrade security measures to prevent future incidents like this from occurring.

“We’ve got to ramp up our security for our volunteers like crazy after this,” he said.

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call Nanaimo RCMP at 250-754-2345 or contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.nanaimocrimestoppers.com.