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"In some cases a guy might go see a friend or a relative in another state," Molina goes on. "He gets a job. He meets a girl. And he never comes back. Other times he does come back and the parking fee is up to $500. The car might be worth $1400, $1600, but he doesn't have the cash to pay."
Two other reasons for abandonment occur to Juan Santana, a Metro police sergeant who supervises auto-theft detectives at the airport. Thieves know that some motorists equip their cars with electronic tracking devices such as Lo-Jack. So they steal a car, park it at the airport temporarily, and wait to see if the cops show up.
"Unfortunately an airport is sort of like a shopping center for cars," Santana says. "You'll have a guy steal an Acura at the Fort Lauderdale airport, then let it sit in Miami for a week. If he sees it's safe, he'll retrieve it."
Insurance fraud is another motive. "You have a lemon, you park the car here, you report it stolen the same day," Santana explains. "After 30 days the insurance company will reimburse you for it. We might not identify it as stolen in that time frame." (Identifying stolen cars isn't as quick or easy as one might think, Santana notes. Running the license plate through a computer isn't enough, because thieves routinely switch plates to trip up investigators. To be sure an abandoned car is stolen, detectives have to personally inspect it, taking into account the vehicle identification number stamped on the car by the manufacturer.)
Leatha Bouie, J.M. Denis's assistant, points out that some people simply don't notice the signs that outline the 60-day policy, which are posted in all the parking garages. They think it's okay to park indefinitely. "I remember a case where a gentleman had gone to Mexico and was working down there for months. He didn't realize there was a tow policy. He didn't get our certified letter because he wasn't at home."
Bouie says she occasionally wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about mystery cars. "We've had some that I've wondered and wondered about," she recounts. "One was a disabled person -- he parked in a handicapped space and just never came back. We let the car stay more than 500 days. Maybe he passed away, but there's no way for us to know. The best stories are the ones we never hear. I think about why anybody would go away and leave a Cadillac for 30, 40, 50 days. I feel like saying, 'Bring it over to my house! I'll use it.' But that's just people. They do strange stuff."
As for Prince Eristavi, he's still traumatized by the near loss of his Volvo. "He is so upset he's not going to visit here any more," says Walters, the prince's secretary. "Maybe Greece next year.