Escondido police are searching for a cafe customer who they say swiped a barista’s keys and stole her car, then possibly returned the emptied-out vehicle to the tea shop the next day.
A push to find barista Katya Perez’s car started Monday evening after an unidentified customer at Sharetea on West Valley Parkway slipped behind a partition and took a set of keys off a table in an employee lounge area, where a number of handbags and other employee items were on a table, surveillance video shows.
The keychain thief appears to wait for a moment when customers and staffers were distracted before slipping behind the divider and shoving the keys in the pocket of her romper.
After securing the keychain, the suspect sneaks back into the common area undetected and waits for her boba drink order. Perez estimates the thief was in the store for 5 to 10 minutes before casually walking outside.
“I am still in so much shock. I can’t fathom that that would happen to me,” Perez told NBC 7 Tuesday afternoon. “It kind of makes me feel stupid. I was in the kitchen washing dishes.”
She used the key fob to find Perez’s car, which was parked near the street and just out of range of Sharetea’s cameras.
Perez realized her car was missing when she went to get her lunch out of it, which was about 10 minutes after the woman left the store. Not only was the car missing, but, she later discovered, a number of personal items inside were gone too, including a rosary which is very important to her, her school transcripts and a pin that had a picture of her late grandfather in it.
The surveillance video made the rounds on Escondido’s neighborhood social media sites, and Sharetea posted photos of the theft suspect on its own social media channels. Friends and even complete strangers were willing to help Perez find her car and the woman who they think took it.
The alerts from the community may have paid off because Tuesday night at around 10 p.m. the Escondido Police Department confirmed Perez’s car was back at the tea shop, keys inside, with no explanation of how it got there.
NBC 7 caught up with Perez in the parking lot while she was retrieving her car. While relieved, she said she was still upset because she lost some things she can never replace.
“I'm more sad [than excited] because all of my stuff is gone,” Perez said. “They even took the picture of my grandpa that was in there ... My seats are ruined, there’s gasoline spilled all over the car, all my clothes are gone, all my books are gone.”
Perez can’t understand what the thieves would want with her personal items that carry no material value.
“I’m really heartbroken right now and I don’t have the money to pay for the damages either,” she said.
EPD is still looking for the suspect, who investigators describe as a woman with blond hair approximately 5 feet 6 inches tall with tattoos on her left hand and wrist. She also has several piercings.
The Toyota Corolla is ranked 8th among the most stolen cars in California in 2020, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Over 3,200 of them were stolen that year.
Get updates on what's happening in San Diego to your inbox. Sign up for our News Headlines newsletter.