Crime & Courts

Valet at SC airport took woman’s car while she was on a trip, cops say. But she came home early

A Columbia airport valet is accused of taking a customer’s car and driving around in it while she was out of town, getting caught when she returned home early because of Tropical Storm Barry, according to police.

Shaquvis Marquise Darnell Dev Smith, 27, of Columbia, is charged with one count of use of a vehicle without permission, according to Lexington County court records.

A 59-year-old Columbia woman told police she parked her Toyota 4Runner at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport around 5 a.m. July 9 for a trip to New Orleans, according to a report from the Columbia Metropolitan Airport Department of Public Safety. That night while in New Orleans, she got a phone call from a man at the Republic Parking Valet office who said their records showed her returning July 10. When the woman told the representative that this was a mistake and that she was returning July 15, he said he would change her return date and time and park the vehicle again.

But the tropical storm caused the woman’s conference to be canceled, and she returned home early on July 12, according to the report. When she arrived back at the Columbia airport, Republic Parking Valet told her they could not locate her car, and she told them the key attached to the ring with her vehicle’s information on it was not her key.

When the vehicle’s tag did not show up in the nightly inventory for the day the victim left, they called Smith — the employee who was working that night — who said he mistakenly took the key home with him but that he was en route to the airport, police said. He told the valet supervisor he thought he parked the Toyota 4Runner in the garage and that he would find it when he arrived, which the officer thought was suspicious because the vehicle wasn’t parked in any of the airport’s lots.

Officers drove to where they could see the entrances to the airport’s parking lots and saw the 4Runner enter a lot, police said. The driver, Smith, denied doing anything wrong but then admitted to driving the victim’s car around while she was on her trip.

Smith told officers his vehicle had a mechanical issue he couldn’t afford to fix at the time. After finding out when the victim was supposed to return home, “he thought he could use her vehicle and save the money that he was spending on an Uber to get around until he could get his vehicle repaired,” according to the report.

The 4Runner did not have any damage, but the owner said the “Check engine” light was on and that it was not on when she left, according to the report.

Smith was released from jail on $8,000 personal recognizance bond, Lexington County court records show. He had no prior criminal record before his arrest, police said.

Republic Parking said in a release that Smith has been terminated.

“In more than fifty years of providing parking and transportation services to airports throughout the United States, we have never encountered a situation like this,” the company said.

The airport also issued a statement calling Smith’s alleged actions “inexcusable and unthinkable.”

”While Republic Parking is the contracted vendor onsite at CAE to handle all parking services, including valet, we support (Republic’s) action of immediate termination of their former employee in question,” the statement reads.

Use of a vehicle without permission is a misdemeanor that carries up to three years in prison, under South Carolina law.

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