SINGAPORE - He left his van parked just outside a childcare centre for less than 5 minutes but that was all the time it took for financial adviser Khristian Kelvin Koh's vehicle to be stolen and later modified by the thieves.
Three suspects have been arrested and the van recovered. A small packet of a crystalline substance, suspected to be controlled drugs, and a drug-taking utensil were found in the vehicle.
Mr Koh, 40, was taking his two-year-old daughter to My First Skool at Guillemard Crescent last Friday (Sept 22) and he left his one-month old van unlocked with the keys inside.
It was parked less than 3m away from the gate of the childcare centre and he said the road was usually empty when he dropped by.
But when he returned less than 5 minutes later, his van was gone.
He made a police report immediately and, soon afterwards, put out a plea on social media to get help from the public.
For the rest of the day, he received close to 10 calls and messages. One particularly harrying message came from someone who briefly spotted his van travelling along the Tampines Expressway in the early afternoon at about 110kmh.
Mr Koh said that the van had both his house keys and his home address. "We called the locksmith to change the locks for our home," he said, adding that his wife took urgent leave to go home early.
At about 11.15pm, he got a call from the police, who said they had his vehicle at the Woodlands Checkpoint.
He went down and checked his van at about 3.30am, only to find that the people who stole it had altered the vehicle and thrown away many of his personal belongings.
"They removed my speakers and put in their own speakers. They threw away all the children's DVDs. My coins, cash card and my RayBan sunglasses are missing," said Mr Koh.
To his shock, he found that the thieves had driven around 400km in the 15 hours they had his van. They changed his license plate, too.
But his van was otherwise not damaged.
The police told The Straits Times that they received a call for assistance along Guillemard Crescent at 7.26am for a motor vehicle theft.
A statement from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority on Sunday said three Singaporeans were arrested at Woodlands Checkpoint at about 9.55pm last Friday. Two were men aged 27 and 23, while the other was a 23-year-old woman.
Police investigations are ongoing.
This latest case comes even as motor vehicle theft cases have fallen. There were 67 such cases in the first half of this year, a 10 per cent drop from the 74 cases reported in the same period last year, according to the police's mid-year crime statistics.
While thankful that he managed to get his stolen van back, Mr Koh regretted not being more careful. "We take our safety for granted. But as they say, low crime doesn't mean no crime," he said.
"I'm quite worried there might be drug residues in my van. I don't want my children to come across them," Mr Koh added.