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Thieves Plunder Yakima Freeway Construction Site

Sat December 24, 2005 - West Edition
CEG



YAKIMA, WA (AP) Roger Carlen has built or repaired bridges throughout the Pacific Northwest, and never before have thieves so targeted one of his projects.

Carlen, a 20-year employee of Spokane-based Max J. Kuney Construction, is overseeing one of the biggest road projects in Yakima history. The project involves rebuilding the Interstate 82 interchange at Nob Hill Boulevard, widening State Route 24 and replacing a bridge over the Yakima River to improve traffic to the East Valley.

The $34-million project started in April. Since then, thieves have raided the construction site regularly. They siphoned gas from a diesel generator parked in plain sight atop the new overpass, and they stole a laptop computer from an office trailer, as well as lumber, power tools and scrap metal.

The thieves have overcome padlocked chains and steel security grates. Recently, thieves stole solar-powered motion-detector floodlights welded to the top of a shipping container as a security measure.

There wasn’t a single theft from the site of his last project, the Farwell Road Bridge in Spokane, Carlen said.

“I always heard stuff about Yakima, but I never expected anything like this,” Carlen said. “It’s just been a never-ending battle. The amount of time it must take to steal this stuff, they’ve got to be out here for hours. I’ve got to think a regular job would be easier than this.”

Yakima County has seen a 32 percent increase in burglaries in the past year, as well as a 37 percent increase in car thefts, which are often committed solely to carry out other crimes.

In September, thieves climbed up power poles, cut down and coiled 600 ft. of copper wire that had powered the historic Yakima trolley through the Selah Gap. The wire was there for decades before anyone thought to steal it.

Dave Thompson, chief criminal deputy of the Yakima County sheriff’s office, blamed the problem on a combination of drug addicts on methamphetamine, sometimes called cranksters, and bands of teenage delinquents.

In recent weeks, deputies have arrested several carloads of teenagers suspected of being burglars, Thompson said.

As for drug addicts, “Cranksters will steal the craziest things,” he said, “and they’ll go to no limits to get to it — horrendous amounts of effort stealing stuff you and I wouldn’t even think twice of stealing.”