Paul Graves, manager of the branch of Jasper Auto Sales that specializes in the sale of Toyota Tacomas, said a black 1997 truck was stolen on Feb. 18 — the same day that two men who claimed to be brothers test drove the vehicle. Graves estimated the vehicle to be worth about $10,000.
Graves said the men were not asked to leave their drivers license at the dealership during the test drive because of the high volume of shoppers on the lot on that day. Usually, he said this is a prerequisite for test driving a truck at Tacoma Mania.
The culprits apparently broke a lock used to secure a gate that surrounds the perimeter of the business located at 3189 Veterans Drive. Also apparent is that they moved a Ford truck to clear the way for the Tacoma.
“They hooked a chain to it (Ford truck) and dragged it out of the way, then took a hammer and beat the lock off,” Graves said.
A few days later, on Feb. 21, someone attempted to steal a 1992 Tacoma truck from the lot, but the vehicle was abandoned after it got stuck. Although the truck was not taken, it was “bent up” during the attempted burglary, according to Graves.
Graves said this was not the first time his business has been targeted by burglars. He said over the last six months, “We have lost four Toyota trucks.” He added that a Chevrolet Tahoe was stolen from a vehicle dealership across the street from his lot.
Graves said he suspects the stolen vehicles are being stripped down for their parts. “They can’t be driving them,” he said.
Jasper Police Chief Danny Patton said the law enforcement agency has increased patrols near the auto dealership recently in an effort to thwart future thefts there.
“We’ve increased patrols — even in unmarked cars — to see if we can catch the perpetrators,” said Patton, who added that he was astonished by the heists because of the visibility of the dealership.
“It’s kind of peculiar because he’s right there in plain view,” Patton said. “That’s the thing that surprised me.”
Graves said during one theft, the perpetrators sawed down a portion of the fence to create a space in which a truck could be driven off the lot. He said he is surprised this did not attract attention.
He said, “When you saw a steel rail down, now that makes a lot of noise.”
Graves said the dealership plans to install security cameras adjacent to the lot to increase the dealership’s security.
Patton said although the recent truck thefts appear to be isolated, it seems that more vehicles being stolen are pickup trucks.