On Your Side: Trailer thefts in the Pine Belt

On Your Side: Trailer thefts in the Pine Belt
Source: WDAM

JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Do you have a trailer sitting in your front lawn or maybe at your business?

You may think those expensive locks will keep your belongings safe from thieves, but local law enforcement are urging owners to think again.

"It's convenient," Jones County Chief Investigator Tonya Madison said. "Only thing a person has to do is back up to the trailer, hook it to their vehicle and they're gone."

Madison said the Jones County Sheriff's Department sometimes work multiple trailer theft cases a week. She said criminals are looking for convenience, so they can cash in for drugs or other things.

"They open it up, look in it," Madison said. "They hit the jackpot with a lot of stuff inside, they can take that stuff and sell it for drugs, trade it for drugs or sell it at the pawn shop."

Rena Register with the Jones County Baptist Association said whoever stole their Disaster Relief Organization trailer did just that - hit the jackpot.

"It was pretty devastating, to drive up one day and realize your disaster relief trailer is gone," Register said. "I was in question, did that - is our trailer really gone?"

Register is the Missions Mobilization Coordinator for The Jones County Baptist Association, so she is in charge when disaster hits. Register said it took nine years and thousands of dollars of donations from churches and individuals to put together the trailer. She said there were lawn mowers, chainsaws, ladders, generators and other tools to help with any disaster.

"Frustrated and mad and kinda hopeless, thinking what if a disaster hits? What are we going to do," Register said. "When you've worked so hard to put something together and all of a sudden it's taken away from you, especially an organization that does give back."

Register said her team responds to disasters all around Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, but they have also gone as far as New York to help with Hurricane Sandy. Most recently, the group used the trailer for several weeks in Petal after the deadly EF-3 tornado hit the Pine Belt in January.

Register said it was a plain, black trailer that was stolen. She had a picture of a design made for decals hanging in her office, but that process did not happen before the trailer was taken.

"It didn't have any of the logos on it. We were hoping to have it put on, but unfortunately that never came to pass when our trailer was taken," Register said.

Register reported the stolen trailer to authorities, and Chief Investigator Madison said that is the most important part.

"Report it immediately, some people say,'I'll look for it myself,'" Madison said. "That's not going to help you."

The Jones County Sheriff's Department uses a web agency called Leads Online and encourages pawn shops in the Pine Belt to do the same. The database contains all items pawned or scrapped by individuals, the date and locations where that happened.

Investigator Madison said they work hand in hand to track down suspects or items. That is how they landed the suspect in this case.

"If you type a name in, we can put it in the system and that will pull up what they pawned, where they pawned it and how much they received for it," Madison said. "Everything that he's pawned, from wherever, is in that system. It will pop up and show us."

Rusty L. Squires, 50, was arrested on April 4, 2017, in north Mississippi and was charged with grand larceny - more than $1,000.

Madison said Squires denied being involved with the trailer theft, but she said a pawn shop in Jackson has Squires, on a surveillance camera, selling a ladder that belonged to the JCBA.

Madison said Squires has an extensive criminal background. He is out of jail on a $20,000 bond.

"Honest to goodness, I was sad about the whole situation," Register said. "You think, when you come face to face with someone that has taken something from you, you will have this sense of anger and frustration. Honestly, when I saw him, my heart was saddened for him."

Madison said, "That organization helps so many people, not only in Jones County but surrounding counties and states, without any type of recognition. Like I explained to him, for you to come and take that particular trailer, now if we have a disaster in Jones County, we have to depend on others to try to help, when we had out own disaster relief agency here."

Ed Edmund, president and owner of Edmund's trailers in Ellisville, said he is not surprised to hear about the JCBA trailer theft.

"We hear about them just about on a daily occurrence, we hear of a trailer stolen or a hitch stolen," Edmund said. "They are coming in here to buy parts for it or replace the trailer."

Edmund said they sell a new trailer everyday, maybe five a day. He said his business has been a target for thieves in the past, with suspects crashing through the gate and even driving off the interstate to hitch an expensive trailer to the back of the truck. Edmund said he now has locked gates with barbed wire and security cameras.

For customers, Edmund suggested a simple locking system for the trailer and the hitch.

"Even if it's going to be on your pick up truck all the time, you need to buy it to keep it safe," Edmund said.

He said thieves are also targeting trucks in parking lots, stealing a hitch off the back that can be pawned for $50-$100.

Investigator Madison said locks are smart, but a thief will get what a thief wants.

"They'll find a way to get in. If someone wants to steal something, it doesn't matter if you have 15 locks on it," Madison said. "They are going to find a way to steal it and find a way to get in."

Register said she now knows things JCBA could have done better that may have made her trailer less of a target.

"Unfortunately, we did not have all the identification and things that we needed. That was the most frustrating thing for us," Register said. "When we were trying to describe the trailer, we did have the VIN numbers, but the things on the trailer, they were not marked."

Investigator Madison said owners need to take photos and write down the vehicle identification number of their trailer.

For Register and the Disaster Relief Organization, she said she is hoping to get the trailer or some of the items back.

For now, she is relying on volunteers to bring their own tools or equipment to help. Just last week, the group responded to trees down after a severe storm hit the area.

"You know, I made a call to those men and women and said we have trees down and need help," Register said. "Those people showed up with all the equipment we needed and we responded."

Madison said the investigation remains open.