The first thing Mariah Morris did Wednesday when she saw her stolen Acura Integra was to check the dashboard for a prized photograph of her aging grandparents embracing.
Then the 18-year-old Auburn woman rummaged through the trunk to make sure the thieves hadnt swiped her Uggs, designer jeans and other clothing she kept in her car.
Luckily, the only thing missing was part of her ignition.
Its funny now, but I was freaking out then, said Morris, whose car was taken last month from The Outlet Collection: Seattle, the former Auburn SuperMall, while she was inside working. Im happy to have my stuff back. Its such a relief.
Morris is one of 18 or so people who went to the Tacoma Dome parking lot to retrieve their stolen cars. The Auto Crimes Enforcement Task Force recovered 26 stolen vehicles during a six-month sting it dubbed Operation Shiny Penny.
Because there were so many vehicles, the task force decided to drive them to one of the Domes lots and let the owners come to them. Police estimated 18 victims showed up to reclaim their cars; four represented insurance companies that had paid out claims on the stolen cars.
It was the sheer volume, Lakewood police Lt. Chris Lawler said. Its easier for us to do it in one location.
The other stolen cars, laptops and guns uncovered during the investigation can be claimed by owners who make appointments to come down to the police station, Lawler said.
The stolen cars, which were taken from various locations in Pierce and King counties, were valued at about $250,000 and included a range of makes and models.
Andrew Potters 1996 Acura Integra was one of the vehicles recovered.
He moved to Tacoma two days before someone took his car, which was parked on Steele Street near Sixth Avenue. The 21-year-old said he couldnt believe it when police called to tell him they had his vehicle.
I was totally surprised, he said. I never expected to see it again.
His wasnt a complete happy ending though.
A mini refrigerator and two pairs of Oakley sunglasses were stolen from his car. And when he tried to take the Acura home Wednesday, it refused to start.
Although the investigation into the car thefts is continuing, police said Wednesday there was no new information. The arrest count stands at 21, and officers are looking for several others.
Police said many of those taken into custody knew each other but were not necessarily part of the same auto theft ring. The suspects mostly belonged to two gangs and began to sell undercover detectives stolen property through word of mouth.
The operation was based out of a Tacoma storefront and included court-approved wire taps. This was the task forces third undercover operation in two years.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653