GATES COUNTY, N.C. (WAVY) — It’s one of the hottest items for thieves, and a type of theft that seems to go in waves: catalytic converters.

They’re very valuable to cash in, but a Gates County man said he wasn’t about to let the thieves get away with his car parts.

Hollis Lilley says he’s not one to mess with, so when he saw two people under his car, he knew what they were up to.

That’s when he took action and took the keys out of their car so they couldn’t get away.

Lilley says he was walking his dog at the time of the incident when he heard voices he didn’t recognize.

He got a little closer and realized two men were trying to steal the catalytic converter from his car, so he called 911 and found a way to make sure they couldn’t get away.

“I reached out, put the keys in my pocket and came out here, and said, ‘what are you doing to my car?’,” said Lilley.

“This was my first one in the action,” said 911 dispatcher Dawn Abbott. “I’ve had a few more since then.”

Lilley was on the phone with 911 dispatcher Dawn Abbott the entire time.

“I was encouraging him not to engage. We didn’t want to intensify. I didn’t know how far up my deputies were, that’s when he let me know he had their keys and they weren’t gonna go anywhere, ya know?”

She says she could tell it was a tense situation.

“I said, ‘you did what?’ and that’s when he let me know, which was smart because it prevented them from leaving,” said Abbott. “I was worried for his safety with it escalating.”

“She heard me and him get into it one time,” said Lilley. “I said I’m giving you one warning and that’s when she asked me to move off to the greenhouse.”

Gates County Deputies got to the scene within minutes and arrested Marshall Moore and Delvin McGrath for larceny of motor vehicle parts, which is a class one felony.

Marshall Moore and Delvin McGrath (Courtesy – Gates County Sheriff’s Office)

“I remember being kind of mind blown that he remained calm enough to go take the keys out of the car to keep them from leaving. It’s not something you see or hear everyday,” said Deputy Christopher Perry.

At first, the men told deputies they were there to buy the car.

“They said that they were there to look at the car to make an offer and buy it and I said, ‘why were you under the car?’ and they said to make sure the catalytic converter is still there,” said Deputy Aaron Smith.

Deputies say they’ve had quite a few catalytic converter thefts recently and they don’t encourage people to confront suspects, instead wait for officers to arrive.

“I’m glad the deputies were in the right place at the right time, from the initial call to dispatch, to deputies arriving on scene, 5 minutes,” said Sheriff Ray Campbell. “Got there pretty quick, caught them in the act.”

Gates County Sheriff Ray Campbell says this was really a team effort to get them behind bars, and says courageous thinking on Lilley’s part played a big role.

“I’m glad my dispatcher told him to stand down and not do anything, he did a great job,” said Sheriff Campbell. “They could have had handguns and turned on him, and he walked up and did what he did anyway with taking the keys, great job on his part.”

“I guess they figured they were screwed,” said Lilley. “They couldn’t go anywhere.”

Sheriff Ray Campbell says they’ve seen an increase in catalytic converter thefts recently and he’d recommend thieves stay out of Gates County.

“Stay out of Gates County, we will do everything to catch you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” said Sheriff Campbell. “I would caution a thief that’s coming to my county, to crawl underneath a car and steal a catalytic converter because we are a rural county and everybody here has guns.”

Deputies recommend residents to get a camera. If you don’t have one, then be especially vigilant of your surroundings. They say thieves stealing catalytic converters usually target areas that aren’t well lit, where there are a lot of cars parked in a small space.

The two men were successful at sawing the catalytic converter off of Lilley’s car, so right now he doesn’t have a way to get around.

He plans to set up a fundraiser because he can’t get to doctor’s appointments at this time. 10 On Your Side will add that link when it becomes available.