When Sandrine Miller-Bey’s black Toyota Avalon was bumped from behind at a stoplight in Northeast Washington on Tuesday, she thought nothing of getting out to check on the damage. The driver of the other car did the same.
But Miller-Bey said the young man simply stared down at her bumper while texting on his cellphone. The 37-year-old teacher of at-risk children started to scold him on the dangers of distracted driving before she realized “it was part of the scam.”
“He was keeping me busy while another man jumped out of the car, ran by me and got into my car and took off,” said Miller-Bey, recounting the traumatizing moments brought by a group D.C. police have labeled serial carjackers using the “bump and run” technique to steal cars.
Inside Miller-Bey’s new $40,000 car were her purse, money and credit cards, but also a MacBook Pro computer she had bought the day before, and an older laptop on which she had stored research for her PhD studies in culture and leadership. She had only backed up half her notes. “I lost nearly everything,” she said.
So far, authorities have linked the group to three car thefts and one attempted car theft since Aug. 28 — when a 2013 silver Honda Pilot was stolen. And a man called The Washington Post on Friday to say that he too was targeted earlier this week. The thefts all occurred in the morning hours in Northeast and Southeast Washington; the victims include a teacher, a postal carrier, an attorney and a human resources executive.
Police said they’ve recovered Miller-Bey’s vehicle, as well as a blue 2004 Jaguar stolen on Thursday, but not the belongings from inside the vehicles. No arrests have been made, and police lack detailed descriptions of the attackers. None of the victims were injured, and police said no weapons were used. Authorities are warning drivers who are hit from behind to stay in their cars, lock their doors and call 911.
The encounter was particularly disturbing for Miller-Bey, who lives in Clarksburg and has long taught the District’s troubled children.
“That’s the part that really hurts me,” she said. “I’ve been part of this community for years. I come down here every day, by choice, and this is the payment you get. I’m not vindictive, and I believe in going back to the community to help, but wrong is wrong.”
Miller-Bey said she was carjacked as she drove to work about 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday. Her back bumper was struck while at a red light at Division and Eastern avenues NE. She said there were three men who appeared to be in their 20s and a woman in the car that hit her car.
Police said that Miller-Bey’s Toyota Avalon was used less than a half-hour later in an attempted carjacking about two miles away at Fort Davis Drive and Massachusetts Avenue in Southeast. The car targeted in that instance — a black Toyota Camry so new it still had paper dealer tags attached — belonged to Valerie Phillips-Addison, a 47-year-old postal carrier who lives in Capitol Heights and works in Tysons Corner.
But Phillips-Addison did something other drivers did not — after her car was bumped at a stop sign, she got out only after turning off the engine and putting her keys in her pocket. “I didn’t want anyone to jump in and steal it,” she said.
She said the bump was hard enough that “I had to get out and take a look.” She said two screws holding the temporary license plate had dislodged and the bumper was dented. But the young man who had been in the passenger seat of the other car kept repeating, “No damage, no damage,” Phillips-Addison said.
She said the driver of the car that hit her then pulled up, straddling a double yellow line. She said he was peering into her car — police said that was to see if the keys were in the ignition. At that moment, Phillips-Addison said a police car approached from the opposite direction and the young men quickly sped off. She said the officer tried to give chase but lost them.
Two days later, on Thursday, another woman was robbed of her Jaguar at Hartford Street and Alabama Avenue SE, also in a “bump and run.” Police said they recovered that vehicle Friday morning.
Sam Podberesky, a 67-year-old attorney with the U.S. Department of Transportation, said he had a similar experience while driving to work Tuesday morning. He said his vehicle was struck from behind at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE. He had noticed a car that appeared to be following him, and when he was struck, he realized it was the same vehicle.
Podberesky said he got out to assess any damage, but then quickly retreated to his car, a little bit suspicious when a passenger from the other car kept telling him, “It doesn’t look like much damage.” He said he didn’t call police, but he quickly drove off.
“Had there been damage, I would’ve called 911,” Podberesky said.