DOVER — Carolyn Fredricks was livid Monday when she learned that seven Modern Maturity Center buses had their catalytic converters stolen over the weekend — rendering them inoperable.
Ms. Fredricks, executive director of the center, said the thefts impacted hundreds of Kent County seniors who depend on the nonprofit for transportation to its services, including adult day care and a program for early memory loss.
“All of our buses that are out in our parking lot — which was seven because two of them were in the shop being worked on — they stole the catalytic converters off of all of them, so we have no transportation program right now,” Ms. Fredricks said. “Luckily, it does not affect our Meals on Wheels program, but it affects our dementia unit because we pick up those clients, and we bring them in here.
“So we couldn’t do that (Monday). So what had to happen was they called the caregivers to let them know that we couldn’t bring them in.”
Sgt. Mark Hoffman, spokesman for the Dover Police Department, said MMC also reported the incident to the agency.
“We’ve seen it happen in Dover off and on,” he said of catalytic converter theft. “It is something that is happening throughout the country and throughout the state. We haven’t seen a whole lot of them around here, but we have seen them.”
Ms. Fredricks said MMC sent four of the affected buses off for repairs Monday, but she wasn’t certain when they may be able to return to the road.
“My concern was, are we even able to get catalytic converters right now? Because you know how there’s always a shortage of everything,” she said. “I know DART is going to do a little bit of work for us on a couple of them, and they do have catalytic converters there.
“I don’t know how long it will take them to get them repaired. It’s tragic for the people who look to us for the socialization and the cognitive activities that we do (and) for the ones that are involved in our Day Break program and our Front Porch early memory-loss program.
“And the caregivers, ... they’ve got to go to work, so this is where they would send their loved ones. ... So it’s a mess.”
Ms. Fredricks said that, since she learned of the thefts from the MMC bus fleet, she has reached out to some acquaintances and discovered she was not alone, learning of catalytic converter thefts from vehicles at the Mamie A. Warren Senior Center in Smyrna, as well as at another senior facility in New Castle County.
“It’s an epidemic right now,” she said. “Years ago, it used to be air conditioners. They would steal the copper off the air-conditioning unit. Now, there’s something in those catalytic converters that must be like gold or something because they’re stealing them, and unfortunately, this is affecting the very people who need to come in here.”
The Delaware State Police issued a news release in December 2019 warning of catalytic converter thefts around the state.
It said the reason the parts are stolen is the value of their metals — platinum, rhodium and palladium.
The metals are expensive, and thieves sell the converters to scrap yards, DSP said. It can cost a theft victim up to $2,000 to replace the part, and it is illegal to drive a car without one. The resulting gap in the vehicle’s exhaust system also makes it run poorly.
Ms. Fredricks said it will take a good chunk of money to repair the MMC fleet.
“Of course, we have insurance, but we have a deductible, and it’s deductible per vehicle,” she said. “The deductible per vehicle is going to cost us (a total of) $3,500 to $4,000.
“That’s $500 per vehicle, and I don’t know what kind of damage they did when they were trying to get it out. My insurance is going to cover it, but you know what happens when your insurance covers something. You’re going to pay for it in the end.”