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Police seek 'pros' in Smithton heist

Paul Peirce
| Wednesday, June 11, 2003

SMITHTON -- Authorities have been unable to link the brazen weekend theft of a box truck and 32 rims and new tires from tractor-trailers parked at a sales center along Interstate 70, near Smithton, to the recent $1.2 million heist of three trailers filled with designer clothes in Allegheny County.

"Whoever did this certainly were professionals. They had everything staged and ready to go, and it took at least four to six hours to accomplish," said Frank J. Stout, general manager of the Wabash National Trailer Center, along Dutch Hollow Road in South Huntingdon Township.

Sometime between 8:30 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. Sunday, thieves used bolt-cutters to cut through several fence locks and enter the grounds of the trailer sales center, where more than 100 trailers are parked, according to state police in Belle Vernon. Losses are expected to exceed $30,000.

On June 1 in Wall, Allegheny County, thieves also used bolt-cutters to enter the Eastern GPS truck terminal. They drove off with three trailers full of Chaps and Ralph Lauren brand shirts and jackets, valued at $1.2 million in all.

"There are some similarities (between the Wall and Smithton thefts) and we're looking at the possibility it was the same people. We're looking into whether the tools they cut the locks with may be the same," said Allegheny County Detective Tim Skoog, who is investigating the theft in Wall and working with the FBI's Interstate Theft Task Force in Pittsburgh.

However, FBI spokesman William Crowley said last night authorities compared initial information on the two thefts that occurred only a week apart and opted for "two separate" investigations unless new information turns up. Crowley added that investigators are pursuing several tips received from the public in connection with the Wall case.

He declined to disclose details of the probe.

Once inside the Smithton facility, the thieves used a portable compression gun to remove lug nuts from the wheels of several trailers.

"As long as we've been here, since 1999, we've never had even as much as a piece of paper stolen from our lobby. This area is entirely lit up with spotlights at night, too," Stout said.

He pointed to several custom-made 4-by-4 wood supports made by the thieves. They were used to prop up each trailer on its axles while the lug nuts, wheel rims and tires were removed. Stout said the precision supports are proof that the theft had been well planned in advance.

The thieves left behind the lug nuts and supports.

"The supports had to be just the right height to be able to remove the tires, and they needed different bits to remove the lug nuts. Each support had to hold a trailer that weighs 12,000 pounds," Stout said.

"Look, the pencil marks are still on the wood where each piece was cut," he added.

Each tire with its steel rim weighed about 300 pounds. Stout estimated it took at least two or three men to lift them into the 1990 International, a 24-foot-long box truck. Police said four alloy rims weighing about 100 pounds each were taken as well.

Stout believes as many as half a dozen men may have participated in the theft.

He said the thieves began breaking through a specially wired security fence, but noticed the alarm wiring and backed off. The thieves then entered through another area.

If the thieves had moved the secure fence "even an inch," he said, an alarm would have summoned police.

Stout said the thieves then hot-wired a tractor truck and moved several trailers to open an escape route. Police said they also hot-wired the box truck, already loaded with tires, and rammed it through a fence to escape.

The International truck stolen in Smithton was white; red letters on the door read "North American Trailer Center." The Pennsylvania license plate reads YKG 1798.

Anyone with information about the Smithton theft may telephone Tpr. James Monkelis at 724-929-6262.

In the case of the Wall theft, a $10,000 reward is being offered by Warnaco Inc. of New York City, the clothing manufacturer, for any information leading to the recovery of the merchandise and the arrest of the thieves.

In addition, anyone with information about the thefts may call the FBI office in Pittsburgh at 412-432-4000.

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