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Crime & Courts

Father loses livelihood to lawn equipment thieves


Published:   |   Updated: August 8, 2013 at 08:44 AM

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TAMPA — Douglas Hall changed careers last year to give him a flexible schedule so he could care more easily for his three children.

He left his job installing and repairing air conditioners for a small company and started a lawn maintenance service, which allowed him to set his own hours. It isn't easy to get that kind of job when you're a single parent, he said.

At home, the finances were tight.

His wife left him a couple years ago and he has been raising their three children, who are currently 3, 4 and 5 years old. His son is autistic.

He moved in with his maternal grandmother in Brandon and his children received health insurance through Medicaid.

Once the lawn business started to catch on, he was able to afford health insurance for his children.

“I was doing pretty good,” he said.

But the modest good fortune ended last week when his trailer loaded with commercial lawn equipment was stolen from his grandmother's home. He said the thieves took more than several thousand dollars worth of equipment - they stole his livelihood.

Hall contacted the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and filed a report of grand theft on the morning of July 30. Hall said the trailer was parked on the side of the home against a privacy fence; he had parked his Jeep in front of it.

The thieves broke into the Jeep, broke the steering column, shifted into neutral and pushed the vehicle backward enough to be able to pull the trailer out, Hall said.

“(The trailer is) too heavy for me to pick it up and move it a long distance,” said Hall, who didn't have his lawn equipment insured. “(They) had to be pretty strong to move it.”

Stolen was a commercial riding mower, hedge trimmer, edger, weed trimmer, backpack blower and two full fuel cans. He estimates it would cost $8,000 to replace all the stolen items, including the trailer.

The sheriff's office said trailer thefts are an ongoing problem.

“It's very common,” said Debbie Carter, a sheriff's spokeswoman. “They are relatively easy to steal.”

Last month, the sheriff's office held a program at its Ruskin office allowing owners of trailers to register their trailers as part of the sheriff's Trailer Identification Program.

Under the free program for Hillsborough County residents, sheriff's deputies assign a “unique” number that is placed on the trailer. The trailer is also photographed to help assist in identifying it if it's stolen and recovered. The sheriff's office often recovers stolen trailers, but many times can't find its owner if the vehicle identification number has been removed, the sheriff's office said.

To make ends meet, Hall has started working with a friend who owns another lawn service. It's not as much money as when he worked for himself, but it's something, Hall said.

“It (was) enough to buy food for the weekend,” said Hall, 32.

Hall said he'll keep grinding until he can start his lawn business again.

“Just find work wherever I can find it,” Hall said. “Until I can buy new equipment, buy a new trailer and start from scratch.”

jpatino@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7659

Twitter: @jpatinoTBO

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