West Mt. Airy block captain critically injured after confronting armed catalytic converter thieves

Police say the block captain and the owner of the van approached the suspects as they were in action.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Philly block captain shot by catalytic converter thieves: Police
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Police say the block captain and the owner of the van approached the suspects as they were sawing off the catalytic converter.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A block captain was shot after confronting three suspects who were trying to steal a catalytic converter from a van in the West Mount Airy section of Philadelphia, police say.

It happened shortly after 5 a.m. Wednesday at Pomona Street and Germantown Avenue.

Police say the owner of the van heard a noise that sounded like a power saw.

"The owner of the van who I spoke to said he heard the noise, the metal and cutting noise," Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Scott Small said.

The owner and his neighbor, the 52-year-old block captain, approached the scene.

They found the male suspects under the van sawing off the catalytic converter.

When the suspects realized they were being watched, they took off.

Police say the suspects ran down Pomona Street toward a car that was parked at Germantown Avenue as the van's owner and the block captain followed.

"And that's when one of the thieves who (had been) under the van fired at least one shot, striking the block captain one time in the left side of his chest," Small said.

Police rushed him to Einstein Medical Center and into surgery. He was listed as critical, but later stabilized.

"Our block captain has been diligently doing the work for this community for years and I don't think anyone has stepped up the way he has, so our thoughts are totally with him," said Leslie Burrell of West Mount Airy.

The owner of the van was not injured.

Action News spoke with the owner who was with the block captain when he was shot. He tells us he helped apply pressure to the wound on his chest and is too shaken up to talk about the ordeal.

Police say the block captain was armed, but it's unclear if his gun was fired.

Neighbor Jan Wright says they've been adapting to a lot of change over the decades.

"We fight so hard to have a nice life," Wright said, adding, ""It's hard. We've lived in this neighborhood a long time. My family has been in this neighborhood a long time."

After 35 years, and with more reports of similar thefts and gun violence in the city, she says something has to give.

"What is with the guns on the street? What can we do?" Wright said.

According to investigators, the three suspects fled in a gray or silver four-door sedan last seen going southbound on Germantown Avenue.

Thefts of the exhaust emission control devices have jumped over the past two years as prices for the precious metals they contain have skyrocketed.

Thieves can expect to get anywhere from $50 to $300 if they sell the converters to scrap yards, which then sell them to recycling facilities to reclaim the precious metals inside, including platinum, palladium and rhodium.

For victims, the costs of replacing a stolen catalytic converter can easily top $1,000 and make their vehicle undrivable for days or weeks as the part is ordered and installed. It can also leave owners feeling vulnerable.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.