Davin Eldridge – Staff Writer
Authorities have turned to the public for help in locating a man caught on surveillance cameras stealing a local man’s auto wrecker.
The theft occurred on Monday of last week at approximately 6 a.m., on the property of Ridgecrest Automotive & Towing, located alongside U.S. 441.
Surveillance footage depicts an unidentified white male, appearing to be in his late 30s-t0-early 40s, entering onto the property, looking around, and then meandering in a small perimeter around the $30,000 Ford F-550 for several minutes, before eventually taking the vehicle in just a few moments. According to business owner, Jerry “Zeus” Stillwell, the vehicle was last seen driving toward Jackson County.
According to an incident report filed by investigators, a 150 mile BOLO (Be On The Look Out) was launched shortly after arriving.
“I didn’t realize the wrecker was missing till 9:30 Monday morning,” said Stillwell. “I was walking out back keys in hand to get the wrecker and head up to Sapphire to do a tow. That’s when noticed it was not parked were I left it. I asked the guys if they had moved it or pranking me, but that was not the case. I then went back on my cameras and found were a person was walking up the highway at around 3:21am and he walked straight back to the wrecker was parked and came in and out of camera view until he pulled out at 6am headed north. My heart sank when I realized what happened. It’s been a struggle not having it, but we have been blessed and the amazing support of the community to share our post and videos on Facebook has been overwhelming.”
But it’s not just Stillwell that wants his wrecker back. Macon County Sheriff wants his suspect.
“Investigators are actively following up on all information we receive regarding this theft,” he said on Tuesday. “We are also communicating with other local and state agencies as to trying to identify this suspect. The wrecker has been entered into a national database because we suspect it has been taken out of state.”
According to Holland, thefts like these are all too common. In 2016, the county saw a total of 38 motor vehicle thefts. Forty-eight occurred in 2017.
“It’s not uncommon for vehicles to be stolen as a way to get somewhere and then abandoned,” Holland said. “Last week one was stolen out of a used car lot here and abandoned in Clay County the next day. Recently one was stolen at another location and then left a half mile away. Recently a Kubota was stolen here… And recovered after being put on Craig’s List for sale in Georgia.”
The category of auto theft can be rather varied, said Holland. Some vehicles are stolen and sold for scrap in other states, or are taken to larger cities like Atlanta where they’re sold in “chop shops” and vanish without a trace on the black market. Other thefts are reported by operators the day after their vehicle was involved in a chase with police, or after an owner gave someone permission to use their car and never got it back. Then there are times when some automobiles are reported stolen after being operated the night before by a drunk driver.
While the rate of vehicle theft has seen an increase in Macon County, it’s seen a decrease throughout the rest of the state, according to the State Bureau of Investigations annual Uniform Crime Report. The motor vehicle theft rate increased 13.1 since last year–from 13,156 to just over 15,000. At a closer look, that increase is smaller. Trucks and buses saw a 9 percent increase in thefts–from 1,230 in 2016 to 1,341 last year.
The good news is most vehicles that are stolen eventually get recovered, said Holland, who warned the public to take precautions.
“Report suspicious activity when [you] see it, keep vehicles and personal property secured, have security systems in place,” he said. “Mr. Stillwell had all these things and it’s his measures that ultimately will help us to find this suspect and convict him in court in the end. We just hope we find the wrecker before it’s destroyed and sold as parts or scrap metal in some other county or even state.”
Those from the public that have any information are urged to contact the MCSO at (828) 349-2104.