BILLINGS - Billings-based Castlerock Excavating had their skid-steer front loader stolen out of a construction site in the Annafeld subdivision early Tuesday morning in a surprising crime that will put a hitch in the company's daily operations.
It was the last thing the employees of Castlerock Excavating expected when they arrived at the worksite on Tuesday. Their skid-steer - a piece of heavy machinery used in construction to move concrete, dirt and other material - had vanished in an apparent theft.
"They must've jumped in the skid-steer," President of Castlerock Excavating Joel Hoagland said Wednesday. "They cut the GPS off of the skid steer, and then drove it up onto the trailer and took off."
Hoagland said that while the piece of machinery is replaceable, it is expensive and an integral part of their job. A used skid-steer costs at least $50,000, while a new model can run up to $100,000.
“Without that piece of machinery, we’re not able to do some of our work," Hoagland said. "So, we have to move machinery from another project here."
It's an unusual crime, but not completely unheard of. Shawn Nelson has built homes in Billings for nearly 20 years. Around Thanksgiving, he had his skid steer stolen from a job site near Elder Grove School between Billings and Laurel.
“That’s where it was," Nelson said, as he pointed to a now vacant spot. "They just wheeled it right out of here and drove it onto the street, we think. And put it on a trailer and took off."
Nelson also said that while it may just seem like a piece of machinery to the public, it means a lot more than that to his employees.
“That skid-steer, when it goes missing for me or someone else, represents jobs for many other people," Nelson said.
While the motivation is unclear, both men have their expectations for what will happen next.
“They’ve stole it to either part it out, and sell it piece by piece," Hoagland said. "Or they are just going to sell it."
And Nelson said it's an interesting crime because the stolen merchandise shouldn't be too difficult to find. Both Hoagland and Nelson have filed police reports. They hope the equipment will be found but aren't holding their breath.
"It’s not something you would steal and then drive around town and use it locally," Nelson said. "Somebody would catch up to you. It’s not that big of a community."
A community they never expected something like this to happen in.
“It is crazy that crime has gotten that bad that they have enough guts to come into a subdivision like this," Hoagland said. "We can replace the machine, but it would be nice to keep them from stealing from everybody."