published Saturday, October 13th, 2012

Detective assigned to flat, slashed tire cases in Chattanooga

Chattanooga public works employees Sherman Sales, left, and Milton Stewart use rolling magnets to pick up metal debris on Dodds Ave after numerous flat tires were reported over the weekend. Public works employees walked the majority of Chamberlin Ave. to Rossville Blvd. as well as some side streets with the magnets.
Chattanooga public works employees Sherman Sales, left, and Milton Stewart use rolling magnets to pick up metal debris on Dodds Ave after numerous flat tires were reported over the weekend. Public works employees walked the majority of Chamberlin Ave. to Rossville Blvd. as well as some side streets with the magnets.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The parade of hundreds of flat-tired vehicles limping into Chattanooga repair shops seems to have slowed to a crawl.

From Sunday to Wednesday, drivers across the city were forced to spend hundreds of dollars patching, plugging and replacing car tires after finding their tires punctured.

"I've been [fixing cars] since 1965 and I've never seen anything like this week. I'm not sure anyone ever will have the answers," said Randy Keith, manager of Market Street Tire and Auto, which fixed about 175 tires over three days -- a timeframe that would typically have featured five or six tire fixes.

The problem was so extensive, Chattanooga police assigned a detective to hone in on the rash of flats, which were reported citywide, from Gunbarrel Road to Dodds Avenue to St. Elmo. The investigation is ongoing, said police Sgt. Becky Shelton.

Repair workers noticed patterns. All the flat tires were on the passenger side. Most cars had two tires punctured. And the majority of tires were punched with a small hole in the center tread.

"It seems like it could have been something stuck in the ground," said Lacy Norris, a sales associate at National Tire & Battery on Rossville Boulevard. Crews there have changed 250 tires since Sunday --12 times their weekly average.

But other details seem to verge from any kind of pattern. Some area drivers found their tire sidewalls punctured or slashed, forcing them to buy new tires because such wounds can't be repaired.

At this point, it's unclear if the flats were a result of debris in the road or outright vandalism. Shelton said she couldn't comment on any patterns that detectives have seen, only that there have been, "many, many reports."

More than a dozen churchgoers at New City Fellowship on East Third Street emerged from the sanctuary Sunday to find crippled cars, but only in one parking area.

"It's just very bizarre," said Gene Johnson, who handles communications for the church. "It was people who were parked on one side of the church, and pretty much only people with smaller cars."

At first Johnson thought someone had targeted the church, but now he doesn't think that's the case.

"If somebody did it, they did it in broad daylight. They would have had to get down on their hands and knees to stab the tires," he said. "We have a security guard in our parking lot who didn't see anything. We walked the parking lot and never found anything."

Keith is hesitant to name suspicions, but he believes it must be something more than debris and more than a few vandals going from car to car.

"Otherwise, I can't see how it would have kept happening over and over and over," he said.

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