A 43-year-old woman allegedly stole a Missoula city parking enforcement scooter Tuesday and went for a joyride downtown before crashing the three-wheeler into a parked car.
Nobody was injured in the crash, although the city-owned scooter and the parked Subaru both were damaged.
Carey C. Sterling was arrested at the scene and charged with felony theft and drug possession. The woman has a 2004 sexual battery charge out of California and is a registered sex offender. She lists her address as the Poverello Center and is apparently a transient.
The crash occurred shortly after 11 a.m. at the intersection of Woody and Alder streets.
Parking attendant Cotey Newell was writing a ticket on Pine Street when he heard the warning beep of the scooter and turned around to see a familiar person behind the wheel.
Newell had spoken with the woman just moments before. The scooter was parked with the ignition on a half-block away from where Newell was standing, near Ryman Street, a stone's throw from the police department.
"I'd just had a conversation with her," Newell said. "She was talking about having recently been released from Warm Springs and being too crazy for Montana, and then she asked me to open a pack of energy jelly beans. She downed the whole bag and then started walking away backward, staring at me and smiling."
"I started writing a ticket and then I heard the ‘beep, beep, beep' of the interceptors and saw her driving away. It was just there, and then she was in it, and then she was gone," he said.
The GO-4 parking enforcement scooter cost $24,577 when it was purchased in 2006, said vehicle maintenance superintendent Jack Stucky, while new models cost about $28,000. Stucky estimated the damage from Tuesday's crash would cost the city about $2,000, though he did not have an exact figure.
Stucky said it's been a while since a city vehicle was stolen while it was in use, but recalled an incident years ago when an intoxicated man purloined a fire truck.
"That's the last time I recall somebody stealing one," Stuck said. "For as many vehicles as we have running at emergency sites we're lucky we haven't had more stolen. Usually it's people wanting to joyride who have had a few to drink."
University of Montana student Chelsey Flink was devastated when she came out of GoFetch! pet supplies store and saw that her Subaru was at the center of all the commotion.
"I'm supposed to be taking a final right now," said Flink, who was concerned about who would pay for the damage, as well as about graduation this weekend.
Cyndie Winchell has worked for the Missoula Parking Commission for 22 years as a "meter maid" and said she's never heard of an enforcement scooter being stolen.
"That's a first," Winchell said. "I'm just glad they found her, but seriously, how far are you going to get?"
Actually, had it not been for the crash and the unmistakable design of the get-away vehicle, the scooter could have gone for quite some time - and at a pretty good clip.
"We've got them governed down to where they can't go more than 35 or 40 miles per hour, but if you take that governor off they'll go 70," Stucky said of the four-cylinder automatic scooter, which runs on a fuel-injected Ford Fiesta engine. "They're fast."