Several recent thefts of cars and tools in Fulton County have led law enforcement officials to reiterate to residents the importance of securing valuables and keeping a watchful eye.
Three thefts reported Jan. 26 resulted in the loss of thousands of dollars of equipment:
• Between Jan. 16-20, a pole barn was entered in the 4000 block of U.S. 20. Items stolen included a Husqvarna riding lawn mower, a Walker push mower, a Dewalt compound miter saw, a yard sprayer, and a Craftsman hand grinder and bench grinder. The total value is undetermined.
• An outbuilding was entered in the 6000 block of U.S. 20. A red Craftsman air compressor, a torch set with cart, a gas can, two Husqvarna 20-inch chain saws, a Johnson 24-inch chain saw, and a McCullough chain saw were taken. The estimated value is $2,000.
• A farm shop was entered in the 15000 block of County Road 7. Missing items include a Milwaukee cordless drill and cordless impact driver; a 110-volt, six-inch grinder; Milwaukee one-inch and 3/4-inch impact air guns; a set of Pro Grip wrenches; another wrench set; a Craftsman router; an airless spray gun; and a Chicago battery charger. The total value is undetermined.
Fulton County Sheriff Roy Miller said the thefts appear to be related. There are no clues.
Over the past one and a half months three cars have been stolen within the village limits of Delta, the same amount previously stolen over the entire 15-year village career of Police Chief Nathan Hartsock. All have been recovered, with one damaged. There are no leads or clues, but items in the vehicles believed to belong to the thieves have been sent to the labs of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Hartsock said because the vehicles were simply ditched afterward he suspects they may have been taken for joy rides. “It’s just an assumption, but I think people are just doing it for the thrill,” he said.
But another possibility is that the cars are being driven to Toledo to buy drugs. Hartsock said stolen cars are used so that if a vehicle must be ditched to avoid trouble it has no connection to the driver. He said it’s possible some cars are taken for that purpose, then returned to their original spot before the owners realize they’re gone.
“I think it’s more common than people think,” he said.
Problems begin when people leave their keys and valuable items such as purses or laptops in their cars, sometimes in plain sight, Hartsock said.
“It’s a small town mentality. They think, ‘This doesn’t happen around here,’” he said.
When village officers on night patrol notice keys and items visible in vehicles they leave a note advising the owners “that these things do happen when they leave valuable things in cars.”
Hartsock also advised against letting empty cars idle to warm up during cold weather. He said a village ordinance prohibits leaving running vehicles unattended.
“You’re just inviting someone to steal your car,” he said.
Miller said thefts off of rural properties occur because county residents are so trusting. Instead of securing vehicles or putting away equipment at day’s end they assume their belongings will remain untouched.
“It’s just getting into the routine that they don’t do it, and eventually it catches up them,” he said. “The thieves see that stuff and they can readily get to it. Don’t make it easier for them. You don’t want to leave the bait out for the fox.”
And oftentimes, when tools and equipment are stolen, the owners have failed to mark them with personal identification or take photos of them, making recovery more difficult. “Law enforcement still has to prove who they belong to. It just makes it a lot easier to prove,” Miller said.
He added, “If it’s not bolted down, it seems like it’s going to be taken.”
Miller said rural residents need more lighting and security on their property. He suggested placing baby monitors in outbuildings and shops containing valuables, and said inexpensive alarms that don’t require company monitoring can be purchased.
“It can be done at a reasonable cost. You just have to do some research,” he said.
And neighbors can watch one another’s homes during the day when unfamiliar people are around. Miller said while thefts in the county don’t occur often, crimes are usually solved by members of the public reporting what they’ve seen or heard.
“It’s a good way for them to keep each other informed. When you have that many eyes or ears you’re more apt to see something,” he said. “A lot of times, if something is going on we will get 20 calls.”
He said unfamiliar people may have legitimate reasons for being in a rural neighborhood during the day. Often, they are salespeople, some traveling in groups but most by themselves.
It’s when people seem out of place or act suspiciously that residents should be alert, Miller said. When strange vehicles are in neighbors’ driveways when they’re not home, or when unfamiliar vehicles cruise the area, it’s helpful to write down a description, the number of passengers, and, if possible, the license plate number. Taking a photo is also suggested.
The sheriff said when a stranger comes to a person’s door it’s important to notice body language and ask questions. In some cases, the person may be casing the house for burglary and is checking to see if someone is home.
“If they act surprised when you answer the door – that is just a thing I would consider suspicious,’ Miller said.
He said it’s normal for residents in rural areas of the county to feel more apprehensive. But regardless of where they’re located, no county resident should hesitate to contact the sheriff’s office if something appears wrong.
“You don’t know until we check it out,” Miller said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010