School buses stolen, turned into scrap

CHICAGO — A 40-year veteran of the school bus business, Greg Bonnett had never heard of anything like this: Eight of his full-size, 40-foot-long yellow buses were missing when workers arrived at the yard on the Far South Side of Chicago early Friday.

But the 5:30 a.m. call with that news wasn’t the biggest surprise of Bonnett’s day.

GPS units aboard the buses indicated the vehicles were on the West Side. Bonnett headed in that direction and wound up at a scrap yard.

“I expected to pull up and meet the police and see eight buses,” Bonnett said. “I got here and I saw exactly what you’re looking at now. A pile of scrap with school bus yellow.”

The buses had been reduced to a towering tangle of fenders, springs, seats and sheet metal. On one scrap the name of the bus company Bonnett co-owns could still be seen, “Sunrise.”

“This was not a happy day,” Bonnett said.

The buses were stolen sometime after the yard was locked at 7 p.m. Thursday, police said. The vehicles were discovered missing when workers showed up at 5 a.m. and found the gate to the bus yard open and a padlock broken.

When police arrived at SRV Metal Scrapper, several people who apparently worked in the scrap yard ran into a building, police said. Officers initially apprehended one person and later took three others into custody, including the owner of the scrap yard, who was found hiding in the rafters of the building, police said. Charges are pending, police said.

The shredded buses were in a towering pile, and engines and transmissions already had been cut in half, police said.

It wasn’t clear how many drivers were involved in the shift of the buses to the scrap yard, but police said they were surprised by the audacity of the operation.

“It was unusual to see such a large-scale theft,” said Eugene Roy, commander of police Central Investigations Unit.

All of the metal will be impounded as evidence, Roy said.

Bonnett, president of Sunrise Transportation, estimated his loss at $250,000. Four of the buses were equipped with wheelchair lifts for special education students, he said.

As scrap, the buses probably would be worth $1,500 to $3,500 each, said Joe Pickard, chief economist for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in Washington, D.C.

“It seems like a lot of effort for not a big return,” Pickard said.

But Gary Bush, a police officer for 32 years before he began keeping track of thefts for the institute, said thieves will take whatever they can.

“Anything that can be stolen, has been stolen,” he said. “Literally anything of any value is a potential target.”

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass wrote this week about bronze plaques being stolen from grave sites, which authorities said is becoming common across the country.

Bush said the most extreme case he’s seen involved a central air conditioning unit bolted to a 4-by-6-foot concrete slab together weighing hundreds of pounds. The crooks were unable to remove the unit, so they worked the slab loose.

“Thieves will steal anything,” he said.

Bonnett said he plans to replace the buses but that he should be able to fulfill commitments to area schools.

“No Sunrise kids missed school” Friday, he said. “They could steal 10 more and we’ll still get them to school on Monday.”

More in Local News

Mill Creek councilman no longer lives in city, panel finds

The Canvassing Board determined Sean Kelly is not eligible to vote there.

A Democrat and ex-Republican team up to end two-party politics

Brian Baird and Chris Vance unveil a new organization called Washington Independents.

The beavers weren’t happy, either, about Mill Creek flooding

A tree fell on their dam, sending a rush of water into a neighborhood near Jackson High School.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s best images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

Stranger offered candy to student walking home from school

The Granite Falls School District is warning families about… Continue reading

Coming together as family

Special-needs students and teachers at the Transition Center cooked up a Thanksgiving feast.

Lynnwood’s property tax promise to homeowners sort of true

They were told consolidation of fire departments would save, but new rates likely will be more.

Woman who died in 5-car crash identified

A car driven by Susan E. Sill rear-ended another vehicle Wednesday on Smokey Point Boulevard.

Man convicted of 4 counts of wire fraud, 1 count of embezzlement

He siphoned away more than $50,000 from the U.S. Naval Seat Cadet Corps.

Most Read