Whoever stole the tires and rims off 11 rigs at the Cooper Kenworth truck company near Hickory, then hot-wired another truck to haul them off, had the heist planned down to the last lug bolt.
From 17th Avenue Drive in the town of Long View, nothing looked amiss at the dealership Monday morning. The gate was shut as usual when the first employee arrived shortly before 7 a.m.
But on closer inspection, he discovered the lock and chain missing. Inside, a 2005 Kenworth Big Box truck was gone, too, and with it tires and rims from 11 new tractor trailers.
The thieves came so prepared, they placed short 4-by-4 blocks of wood beneath the rear housing of every truck so that they could take their tire jacks with them after they removed the tires.
“It was a sight to see, half their lot setting up on blocks,” said Sgt. Scott Pitts of the Long View Police Department.
Missing are 68 tires and rims, valued around $60,000, and a box truck worth about $40,000.
The tires are huge, about 3-feet tall and with rims they each weigh as much as 150 pounds, said Steve Berry, the company's parts manager. To fit them all within the 24-foot truck the thieves stole, he said, they would have had to stack them neatly.
“They did this within about a four- to six-hour period of time,” Berry said. “They had to know what they were doing. They had to have tools to do it with. There had to be more than one person. We think because of the time range it happened in, there had to be four to six people.”
It's not the first time.
Berry said about 11 months ago, at the dealership's former location on Highway 70, thieves stole 40 tires and rims, a Kenworth tractor trailer and a Kenworth truck. He said a farmer cutting brush found the tractor-trailer in his field about 10 miles away – minus the tires and wheels.
He said the smaller truck was found in a bank parking lot in Mooresville – also without tires or wheels.
Berry suspects the same group of thieves hit the dealership both times, and has hit other dealerships. Sgt. Pitts declined to say whether police have any suspects.
“There's a rash of this happening all up and down the East Coast,” Berry said. “In Concord, they've hit our store twice, in Greensboro twice and Durham once. We've never gotten the tires back, but we've always got the vehicles back.”
Let him know if you see a 24-foot long white 2005 Kenworth box truck with “Cooper Leasing” written on the driver's and passenger's door – you'll know you've found the right truck if the tires and wheels are missing.