'Swangas' attract more than just good attention

October 1, 2010 4:18:55 PM PDT
In some neighborhoods, car rims are status symbols that highly sought after by those hoping to grab attention and impress others. But police say those rims also could be crime magnets because some are willing to rob and kill for them. These rims are called swangas.

"It's a commodity to have in Houston," Houstonian Dahved Murray said. "Everybody's attracted to 'em."

They even star in Houston rap music videos.

The distinctive wire wheels were originally created for 1983 and '84 Cadillacs. They went out of production for years until a California company called Texan Wire Wheel started making them again.

"When you have these swangas, it's like, 'Yeah, you're that cat.' You know what I mean? You're that guy," Murray said.

But it's for that very reason these attention grabbers have another reputation.

"I call them a death trap," Murray said.

In March, 3-year-old Charissa Powell was shot and killed. Right after the shooting, the little girl's father said. "He shot her in the process of trying to shoot me, to rob for some swangas."

Last November, Deandre Elliot, a Worthing High School football player, was gunned down. Police say his killers wanted the swangas on his 1993 Buick.

There are no official stats kept on the number of rim thefts in Houston. But police say it's no secret why they're sought out by criminals.

"Anything that you do to your vehicle that makes you that more attractive to someone else wanting to take that property from you, always you become a target," said Officer Jim Woods with the HPD Auto Theft Division.

Murray knows that first-hand. He purchased a set of swangas a few years ago for $2,400 plus another $1,000 for custom vogue tires. But he says his love affair with the rims ended after a close call with a would-be robber.

"I come downstairs and I notice that somebody has a tire iron and it's going at one of my rims. So I run up on him and let him know, 'Hey, this not the day for that.' He kind of jumps back and tells me, 'OK, let me go see what that pump do,'" Murray said.

He managed to escape unharmed, but the damage was done.

"The nights that you're alone riding the rims, the anxiety that goes through your heart when you're wondering if that's the police, or is that the 'stick-up' kid. Is that the 'jackers over here watching me?" Murray said.

He wouldn't even allow his parents to ride in his car out of fear for their safety.

"You don't want anything to happen to them on behalf of their ignorance upon what they're getting themselves into," Murray said.

Police say the best way to avoid becoming a victim is to avoid standing out -- something swangas fans are unlikely to do. But Officer Woods says it could help keep someone out of a dangerous situation.

"The problem becomes when you become a victim, it's hard for you to understand that sometimes it can be brought on by your own actions," Woods said.

Murray eventually decided to sell his swangas and he now understands that the image he paid such a high price for may not have been money well spent.

"I let people know all the time, 'Look man, it ain't worth it. We out here dying and getting shot behind material things that have no value in the future,'" Murray said.

But despite the risks, scores of Houstonians still desire them.

Watch Eyewitness News at 5pm for a rare look at the swangas culture in Houston. It's more than just rims. From fancy paint jobs to tricked-out interiors to wild personal touches, we'll show you why they do it despite the potential dangers.


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