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Burglars steal tools in excess of $70K from auto repair firms
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Burglar tools were left behind on the roof of JK Automotive Repair after a predawn break- in at the 710 East Yosemite Avenue facility early Sunday morning. - photo by GLENN KAHL

In the dark of night thieves have made off with thousands of dollars worth of automotive repair tools and cash from businesses in Manteca and Ripon.

Most auto repair shops along with tire stores have reported losses each in excess of $10,000 over the last several weeks that included several business storage units in Ripon.

“These guys are working as a crew – a little criminal gang,” one North Main Street shop owner said on Tuesday.

There were five robberies alone in just one week according to Dave Garza of JK Automotive Repair located at 710 East Yosemite Avenue.  He noted that in talking with other shop owners the late night and early morning break-ins seemed to follow the same method of operation by aggressive thieves.

Garza said his shop was broken into through a ventilator on the roof where someone dropped down into his service bays, searched out his most expensive hand tools and made out through a side door.

He recalled he had gone to the shop about 9 a.m. Sunday and found a door open and realized the alarm had been tripped.  He said he didn’t have motion detectors and the alarm was apparently set off when the thieves exited through a door with an estimated $10,000  plus in hand tools.

Garza added that some electronic equipment was also stolen.  His insurance only covered $1,000 of his losses.  The mechanic said he has never had a burglary in his 25 years of operation.  Needing tools for his employees to use, he went out Monday and spent $1,000, he said, noting that didn’t make a dent in what is needed.

On the JK Automotive Repair roof Garza found a black backpack that had what he described as burglar tools, obviously used to cut into the metal roof and razor blades to cut the insulation – just junk tools, he said.

Fears other auto shops will be hit

“I have concern about the other shops that haven’t been burglarized,” he said, stressing that the word needs to get out so they can protect themselves from future burglaries.

Main Auto Repair in the 1000 block of West Yosemite Avenue and Manteca Truck Accessories,  that also operates under Mufflers and More in the 700 block of North Main Street,  had a similar experience with thieves making identical cuts in their building to gain access.

However Main Auto Repair was fortunate in that neighbors were awakened by banging noises and chased burglars away with their shouts to quiet down.  The same was not true at Manteca Truck Accessories where partner Mike Palumbo said his business lost $15,000 to $18,000 in tools.

“We’ve had Snap On Tools come by and drop off $10,000 worth of tools,” he said.  “Because we’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to take inventory.  I’ve just left it alone for a few days and let it (the shock) simmer down.”

Palumbo said the drug culture that started way back in the ’60s, citing drug use as what is resulting in crime today.  He noted that it has made the mafia wealthy is now making Colombia wealthy and through the demand for drugs in this country.  He emphasized that the availability of drugs in Manteca is to the point anyone can just about go out and buy anything they want in Manteca within a 30-minute time frame.

Shop owner: Maybe it’s time to legalize drugs to reduce crime

The shop owner theorized that if the government did with drugs as they did with alcohol and cigarettes in making them legal, there would be no jails filled with small time criminals.  He compared the U.S. to Portugal, Mexico and the Netherlands where all drugs have been legalized doing away with the criminalization that isn’t working here, he said.

“It’s not like they are stealing to put food on the table or pay the rent – it’s only to buy drugs,” he opined.

DC Imports auto repair in the 200 block of North Main Street had its front door smashed in sometime last Thursday night with $4,000 in cash and the whole cash register taken with customers’ checks they had used to pay for their repairs. 

Owner Donnie Darter said thieves also made off with a Snap On Solar Scanner that is used to read manufacturers’ codes on vehicles valued at several thousand dollars.  “I think we got hit for at least $10,000,” he said.

“I think when they found the cash, they decided to leave (most) of the tools alone.” 

The insurance refused to cover his loss, he said, because his alarm system apparently malfunctioned.  Darter located size nine Van foot prints in mud next to the electric box behind the building next door to his business on Main Street.  He noted that the locked door to the breakers was pried open and the breakers shut off to darken the front of his adjacent building – explaining that flood lights had been illuminating the front door of his shop.

Manteca Tire located in the 600 block of North Main Street was also burglarized last Tuesday in the overnight hours.  Chris Van Sandt  said that thieves had pulled a grate off of a rear wall of the building and crawled into the shop.  He said employees discovered the loss when they came to work last Wednesday morning.

His losses matched others in the $10,000 range with a lost code scanner, socket wrenches, a micrometer and other tools.  It was evident they were planning to take tires as well,  he said,  because they had stacked tires inside the rollup back doors.

“It looked like they got spooked and left,” he said.

Los Amigos Tire Pros in the 100 block of South Main Street was hit with losses nearing $18,000 according to manager John Chavez.  His loss occurred early Sunday morning August 7 when two men were seen attempting to break into a rear door.

Neighbors living in the apartments in the 100 block of West Yosemite told Chavez they heard noise and saw the men working the back door with a pry bar at about 2:30 a.m.   He quoted them as saying when the men couldn’t break open the door they left and returned about 5:30 with heavier pry bars.

Chavez said they not only broke into the metal door but also 10-foot-high set of wooden doors all of which have to be replaced.  He said he lost a $12,000 manufacturers’ code reader and two tire pressure monitor sensors valued at $1,200 each.  In addition to the equipment loss the doors and door jams have to be fixed, he added.

Ripon Police Sgt. Steve Merchant reported several similar burglaries at storage units where thieves had broken into the facilities and taken large amounts of tools during the past two weeks in much the same manner as the Manteca robberies.

Discount Ag Parts on North Button Avenue, that parallels the freeway,  had a storage unit outside their main building burglarized, according to Manteca police spokesman Jason Hensley.  Hensley said there have been four detectives in his department who have been aware of the rash of commercial burglaries and have been assigned to working the cases.

In addition to the repair shops being burglarized, the Coffee-N-Go kiosk on Button Avenue next to Perko’s Restaurant on Button Road, was also burglarized in the predawn hours last Sunday.  More than $500 in cash was reportedly taken in the theft – money that is not usually left in the business after closing.