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Bulldozer theft highlights construction site problem

Experts say construction sites often lack security

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Even for longtime police investigators, the Jan. 12, 2008, incident on a pair of Collinsville railroad tracks was a unique one.

It was that night that prosecutors allege Nathan Bailey, 24, of Caseyville, stole a bulldozer from a construction site near Glidden Park and parked the equipment on railroad tracks along Morrison Avenue. A locomotive later slammed into the bulldozer, damaging the tracks and engine.

The incident resulted in a $1.25 million lawsuit against Collinsville city and township, which share ownership of the dozer.

However, it wasn't until last week that police gathered enough evidence to charge Bailey. As of Tuesday, he was still on the loose.

For security experts, the case highlights something familiar on construction sites: theft.

Whether it be small hand tools, building materials or even large pieces of equipment, many experts say thieves like to target construction sites because of their remote locations. In most cases, items are stolen over the weekend and owners don't discover the missing things until they have been gone for a few days.

A study by LoJack, a Massachusetts security company, estimates that 71 percent of construction companies have experienced equipment theft, costing up to $1 billion per year in lost assets.

"It's one of those low risk, high reward kind of crimes," said Jeanne Bock, a LoJack spokeswoman. "Most of the time they aren't highly patrolled or secured."

Bock said that vehicles are especially vulnerable because most don't have locked doors or windows, giving a thief easy access into the cab. Many top models, including made by companies like John Deere and Caterpillar, operate on a universal key that will work for any piece of equipment they make.

Unlike a car, truck or van with a license plate and unique color, those big vehicles can be hard for most people to distinguish.

"All big, yellow equipment looks alike," Bock said. "You can drive it down the street and nobody knows you have a stolen piece of equipment."

Theft at construction sites certainly isn't limited to the big vehicles either. Just last summer, many local police departments reported a tremendous rise in the theft of copper wire and pipes as the market value began to increase. Hand tools have also proved to be a popular trade-in item at local pawn shops.

"Heavy equipment isn't something we've run into often," said Collinsville police detective Eric Herman. "We've had more problems with people breaking into locked trailers."

While smaller items can be transported more easily, there is usually a high price tag associated with moving equipment back and forth. Because of that, companies are forced to look down other avenues to keep their property secure. Some install global positioning devices on products.

"If you steal it, we can find it," said Gene Plocher, executive vice president of Highland-based Plocher Construction Co. "Thieves get to know that."

Bock said companies can add another hurdle by chaining together their construction vehicles before leaving. To help track down stolen property, she suggested labeling property with identification numbers and documenting the purchase.

"Most construction companies are not known for their great record keeping," she said. "It's very important that they do that."

In Troy, police Capt. Rob Luttrell said the department has always made a point to "aggressively patrol" any construction site and that has seemed to work.

In the case involving the train accident, Township Highway Commissioner Larry Trucano said the bulldozer was locked up tightly and he wasn't sure much else could have been done to secure the vehicle.

That's what lawyers for railroad owner CSX Corp. are alleging in the civil suit. They contend the city and township didn't provide enough security or train employees to secure the equipment.

Police say they linked the crime to Bailey after they received a tip about the case. He has been charged with criminal damage to property over $100,000. His bond has been set at $200,000. Anyone with information that could help in his arrest can contact the Collinsville Police Department at 344-2131 or Crime Stoppers at 866-371-8477.

*This article has been changed to correct the spelling of LoJack.

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