Test ride ends with salesman left in lurch

'Honest customer' now a suspected car thief at large

KIRBY, Texas – Twelve minutes caught on surveillance video is all it took for a suspected car thief to size up the inventory at a used car lot, saying he only had $5,000 to spend on a white 2008 Honda Accord coupe before taking a test ride with a salesman last Wednesday.

“At that point, I’m thinking he’s an honest customer. I think his situation is genuine,” said Daniel Ruff, co-owner of South Texas American Auto.

Ruff said the man told him he was recently divorced, so the price was right for the Accord he wanted.

Ruff said the suspect even checked out the vehicle.

“Popping the trunk, doing what customers do, their due diligence,” Ruff said.

Ruff said he made the mistake of not asking for the man’s ID, so he could make a copy since salesman Brian Knights was going with him on the test ride.

“Brian was like, 'I’m going to lock this deal up,‘” Ruff said.

Knights said instead of a great deal, it was a car salesman’s worst nightmare.

When the gas light came on a short distance away on FM 78, Knights had the supposed buyer pull into a convenience store near the car lot. But after they pulled up to the gas pump and Knights went to pay, he said the suspect made an obscene gesture as he drove off.

“I initially thought he was joking around,” Knights said.

But when Knights realized the man wasn’t coming back, he called Ruff, telling him, “Hey, Daniel. This dude, he just stole the car.”

Ruff said his reaction was disbelief. He said he even cruised by other convenience stores since the Honda was already low on gas. But he said there was no sign of the two-door Accord with the $4,999 sales price plastered on the windshield.

Knights said he should have spent more time sizing up the “customer.” He only noticed that his hands were trembling before they pulled in to get gas. He also said from now on, he’s taking the keys with him if he’s in a similar situation.

Both Ruff and Knights said the theft during a test ride was a first for them. Ruff said he’s been in the car business 10 years, while Knights said he’s been selling cars for a couple of years.

They said by dealing with the situation, they lost out on potential sales to real customers waiting to buy.

Ruff said he has a message for the suspect.

“Stop while you’re ahead before you get into too much more trouble,” Ruff said.

Ruff also urges anyone who recognizes the suspect to call Kirby Police at 210-661-8515.

Ruff said South Texas American Auto is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the man’s arrest.

“Let’s get this guy stopped,” Ruff said.