Tahlequah Daily Press

October 29, 2013

Officials seek help in theft case

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Cherokee County sheriff’s investigators are renewing their request for the public’s help in identifying the suspects responsible for taking at least eight large air units from churches, residents, and a even a local school.

Undersheriff Jason Chennault said Keener Baptist Church was hit last weekend when thieves stole two outside air units, valued at about $7,000 total. One was a Trane unit, and the second a Lennox.

An area home was also hit over the weekend when thieves took an outside air unit.

“All of these thefts seem to be happening in the Hulbert area,” said Chennault. “They all seem to happen at night, and usually on weekends.”

Three air units were stolen from Shady Grove School in late September after suspects painted over one surveillance camera and damaged another. The footage garnered from the cameras gave investigators their only real glimpse of a suspect so far – but he or she was wearing a hooded shirt and mask.

Just a couple days before Shady Grove School was victimized, thieves took a couple of two-ton units from Clear Creek Freewill Baptist Church in Hulbert.

“More than likely there’s more than one person working to steal these units because of their weight,” said Chennault.

“They also may be pulling a trailer. We haven’t confirmed either of these theories, but we believe it’s likely.”

Investigators have checked local scrap yards and pawn shops, but have been unable to locate any of the missing air units.

“We don’t know if they are going out of the county to sell them; if they’re holding onto them for some reason; or if they are breaking them down and scrapping them out piece by piece,” said Chennault.

Chennault suggests property owners log serial numbers and photographs that could be used by investigators to help track stolen property.

Property owners may also want to consider additional protection, like installing some sort of surveillance camera, or even a game camera used by hunters that could catch a suspect in the act.

“I hate for people to have to get to that point; you would think that with the size and weight of these air units, that would be protection enough,” said Chennault.

“If you see anything suspicious, please call us immediately.”

Anyone with information about the recent thefts of outside air units is asked to call Chennault or sheriff’s investigators Casey Baker, Justin Hackworth or James Brown at (918) 456-2583.

jnewton@tahlequahdailypress.com