The owner of a billboard company displayed this thank-you after the Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force recovered his stolen excavator. (Snohomish County Sheriff)

The owner of a billboard company displayed this thank-you after the Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force recovered his stolen excavator. (Snohomish County Sheriff)

Cops get big thanks for finding stolen big rig

The owner of a stolen Hitachi excavator used two billboards to praise police for recovering his machine.

CLEARVIEW — The excavator vanished some time around Christmas.

Imprints from the metal tracks could be seen beneath the snow.

With each passing week, Brad Sourbeer grew less hopeful the pricey machinery would be found.

When it was, he wanted to say thank you in a big way.

And Sourbeer had the means to do so.

His unusually large expression of gratitude measures 10 feet by 24 feet and can be found along the sides of roadways around Everett and Woodinville.

He is the owner of a multi-state billboard company. He first used some of the tools of his trade to bring attention to the missing 30,000-pound Hitachi excavator. Although well used, it still is worth about $30,000. It had been taken from a job site in south Snohomish County.

Later, Sourbeer used two billboards — one off the Snohomish-Woodinville Road near Costco; the other off Airport Road across from The Home Depot — to acknowledge the Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force for tracking the excavator down.

Heavy machinery may be bulky and weigh many tons, but it can be remarkably hard to find once it has disappeared. Unlike other vehicles, which require a title transfer, heavy equipment does not. Once it slips onto the black market, it’s likely to cross county and state lines, and sometimes international borders.

Only about 20 percent of stolen heavy equipment is recovered, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the National Equipment Register. That sticks insurance companies, rental businesses and equipment owners with a bill that nationwide can reach $400 million annually.

About six weeks after the excavator went missing, detectives with the auto theft task force traced it onto private property in the Clearview area. No one has been arrested, but the agency said it does have a suspect. The task force texted Sourbeer a photo of heavy equipment for confirmation. The rig is a distinctive shade of blue. Sourbeer, who owns Parker Outdoor, Inc., recognized it right away.

“It was a huge relief,” he said. “Gee whiz.. We had kind of given up hope. It had been long enough where we thought it might have been shipped (overseas).”

He decided he’d share with motorists the abbreviated story. Sourbeer wanted the tens of thousands of drivers who pass the billboards each day to know how appreciative he is to get the equipment back. Perhaps, too, it will be a message to would-be thieves.

He expects the displays will stay up through the month.

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

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