Bold thieves targeting bulldozers and backhoes

EVERETT, Wash. -- If you own a piece of heavy construction equipment in Snohomish County, don't turn your back for too long. Somebody just might make off with it.

Investigators for the sheriff's office say thieves have stolen nine pieces of equipment over the past three months. The latest was taken from a locked job site near Lynnwood sometimes between last Saturday afternoon and Monday afternoon.

Total value of the nine machines is estimated at about $270,000, not including the cost of lost time at various construction sites or rental fees.

"It's relatively easy to make off with one. You can load it onto a trailer and be gone in less than five minutes," says Jim Bride at BDZ Developers in Everett. "You'd be surprised how bold some people can be."

BDZ Developers have been lucky during this summer's spike in thefts, but company owner Al Zahnow says he's had several pieces stolen over the years.

"Right there in the day time. If you got enough guts to come up and do it. and there's lots of people that have lots of guts," said Zahnow.

Manufacturers make it easier for criminals by designing equipment to operate basically with a universal key, meaning a John Deere key to a bulldozer will start an excavator or backhoe.

Detectives believe a specialized group is responsible for the majority of the thefts.

The problem reaches far beyond Snohomish County. In Washington and Oregon, there have been 89 pieces of machinery stolen over the past three months.

Nationally, the value of stolen heavy equipment amounted to $400 million last year.

Authorities recover about 20 percent of stolen equipment. Officers in Snohomish County have found 2 of the 9 taken this summer.