Man found dead under car was trying to steal catalytic converter, Wake sheriff says

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Stockton (Calif.) Record file photo via TNS

A Wake County man was likely trying to steal valuable parts from a disabled car before getting stuck underneath the car and dying earlier this week, the Wake County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.

Officials believe Joshua Larry Diehl, 50, noticed a disabled Toyota Camry at the intersection of U.S. 64 and Debnam Road near Zebulon sometime on Sunday night. Officials said they think Diehl was trying to steal the car’s catalytic converter when the jack he was using malfunctioned, pinning him underneath the car, sheriff’s office spokesperson Eric Curry said in a news release.

Deputies responded to a call of a deceased person at the intersection near Zebulon Monday, shortly after 9 a.m., Curry said. They found Diehl’s body under the disabled Camry.

A tow truck driver found his body first after he was called to the location to tow away the Camry, Curry said.

It wasn’t clear how long Diehl was stuck underneath the car before he was discovered, Curry said.

Catalytic converters, devices located in the exhaust system that convert toxic gases into less harmful pollutants, have become a target for thieves due to the valuable metals they contain, The News & Observer previously reported.

Investigators determined that the owner of the Camry was returning home from work on Sunday night when she discovered a flat tire, according to the release.

Unable to replace the flat tire, the woman asked a friend to pick her up around 10 p.m. and was planning to have the Camry towed the next morning, the release stated.

Officials believe Diehl found the disabled car and started trying to steal its catalytic converter after the woman left the scene.

The sheriff’s office is continuing to investigate to determine whether Diehl may have been connected to similar reports of catalytic converter thefts in the area, Curry said.

“Unfortunately, these types of thefts are on the rise,” Wake County Sheriff Gerard Baker said in the release. “This is a national problem, partly due to the increased value of the precious metals in the part.”

New NC law comes amid rise in thefts

Thefts of catalytic converters nationwide have increased sharply in recent years, up from around 108 thefts a month in 2018 to 282 a month in 2019, and 1,203 a month in 2020, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Locally, thefts have become more frequent as well.

The Cary Police Department handled 39 reports of catalytic converter thefts in 2020, but had received 70 reports as of Sept. 23 of last year, Lt. John Reeves told The N&O in September.

Replacing a stolen catalytic converter can cost car owners anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, according to the NICB.

A recently enacted state law that took effect on Dec. 1, made the theft of a catalytic converter a felony, the N&O reported.

The law also limits who is allowed to possess a catalytic converter that has been removed from a car or truck to people like employees of licensed vehicle dealers, repair shops or metal recyclers and scrapyards.

Richard Stradling contributed to this report.