Thieves target heavy machinery worth thousands

EVERETT — For some crooks, size doesn’t seem to matter.

Over the past three months, nine pieces of heavy equipment have been stolen from across Snohomish County.

All told, the thefts yielded more than $270,000 worth of equipment.

Over the same period, there have been 89 reports of heavy equipment being stolen across Washington and Oregon.

The last local piece of machinery stolen was a 2014 John Deere mini-excavator. It disappeared between 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Monday from a locked job site near Lynnwood. It’s worth $65,000.

Thieves cut a lock and backed the excavator out on a trailer before closing the gate, officials said.

Like many such thefts, the cost is far greater than the equipment itself. It brought construction to a halt. Workers have scrambled to try to find another piece of equipment during the peak building time when the machines are in short supply.

In any given year, the value of stolen heavy equipment across the country reaches $400 million. Loaders and tractors are particularly popular with thieves.

Roughly 20 percent of stolen heavy equipment is recovered, according the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the National Equipment Register. That sticks insurance companies, rental businesses and equipment owners with the bill.

Of the nine pieces of equipment stolen from Snohomish County during the past three months, two have been recovered.

Snohomish County detective Terry Haldeman works with the Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force, which investigates heavy equipment theft. Last year, the task force recovered more than $500,000 in stolen heavy equipment.

“We have a specialized group that I believe are responsible for the majority of the thefts,” Haldeman said.

They can take different approaches.

Several years ago, the sheriff’s office arrested a north county man who took a photo of a tractor on someone’s property and posted the picture on Craigslist. When a potential buyer contacted him, he went out that night, drove off with the tractor and sold it the next morning before it could be reported stolen.

Often, the sales occur quickly, at pennies on the dollar, he said.

Nationally, the crime most often occurs at night or on weekends and between April and September.

Heavy equipment doesn’t require a title transfer as other vehicles typically do.

It can take years before new parts are needed.

Construction crews are good about taking precautions against thefts, typically removing keys from heavy equipment and locking it behind gates, Haldeman said.

He encouraged people who suspect potential thefts to call 911. A suspicious circumstance might be someone on a weekend hauling off heavy equipment using a vehicle that hasn’t been on the job site all week, he said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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