Pat and Daniel Stark of Florida had hoped their troubles in South Carolina were over after a truck and box trailer carrying priceless heirlooms, jewelry, furniture and power tools were stolen at a Rock Hill hotel just a few weeks ago.
The truck, which police found a day later in Berkeley County, was stolen again April 1 while parked in an impound lot belonging to the St. Stephen Police Department, documents show.
“How do you not even know that something you have in custody was stolen?” wonders Pat Stark, a chief nursing officer at a Florida hospital who, before buying the truck, buried her 79-year-old mother. “(Police) didn’t even know it was stolen.”
In late January, Pat Stark’s mother, Gerri, left her home in Ohio to stay with her daughter in Florida for vacation. She soon became ill and entered hospice.
On March 15, she died in her daughter’s home.
After Gerri died, “we had to have her body shipped up to Ohio,” Pat Stark said. “We had her funeral. We went through her house and got her memorabilia.”
The Starks decided to haul Gerri’s belongings, including her wedding ring, to Florida in a truck and trailer. They stopped in Rock Hill to rest at the Microtel Inn & Suites on Riverview Road after encountering stormy weather on the road.
When they woke up at about 9 a.m. March 25, they found that the truck, carrying $100,000 worth of jewelry, and the truck’s attached box trailer, filled with at least $7,000 worth of furniture and $4,000 worth of power tools, were gone.
A day later, police found the truck in St. Stephen in northern Berkeley County.
The truck was parked at an apartment complex with the “ignition broken out,” according to a St. Stephen Police report.
All residents at the complex have to register their vehicles with the manager, said St. Stephen Police Chief John Waters. When the manager saw a truck she didn’t recognize, she called police, who checked the VIN number and realized it was stolen from Rock Hill.
Police had the truck towed to their impound lot, where a Rock Hill Police forensic unit processed it for DNA swabs and fingerprints they’ve sent to the State Law Enforcement Division, said Rock Hill Police Executive Officer Mark Bollinger.
Last week, a State Farm Insurance claims adjuster went to St. Stephen to pick up the truck, but couldn’t find it on the lot.
A town employee asked an officer if someone had come to pick up the truck. The officer called Chief Waters, who said he had not released the truck to anyone, a St. Stephen Police report shows.
“I then informed him that the truck was gone,” the officer wrote in his report. A confidential informant later pointed police to the truck’s whereabouts – the woods.
Police had a tow company store the truck on their lot until it was then taken back to Florida. Now, it’s parked at the Starks’ home in DeLand, Fla. The map lights, brake controller and cap are all missing; the power steering pump is “ruined”; the door’s locks have been punched out; and oil is splattered on the engine, Daniel Stark said.
In addition, the Starks have a $235 towing bill from their insurance company, which is “holding up the claim” now that the truck’s been stolen twice.
“It’s just so frustrating, like no one cares,” Daniel Stark said. “It is not a victimless crime; it affects everybody. It reflects badly on South Carolina.”
Justin Tomczak, State Farm spokesman, couldn’t comment on the status of the Stark’s claim because of customer privacy. He was able to say that the company will not alter its policies because the truck was stolen again, and the Stark’s will receive whatever compensation they’re due.
“Though we don’t have any statistics to report on double thefts, I can say it is an extremely rare occurrence,” he said.
Waters said police suspect the thief who stole the truck the first time is the same person who cut the locks of the impound lot and stole the truck again. The lot, he said, isn’t staffed 24/7. It was the first time something had been stolen from the lot.
Meanwhile, Bollinger said Rock Hill Police do not believe a local suspect is behind the thefts.
A year ago, several cars were stolen from the city by a ring of car/motorcycle thieves who transported the autos to St. Stephen, said Bollinger, adding that police expect they’re dealing with the same group again.
“It’s from down there,” he said.
“Unfortunately,” Waters said, “crime right now is probably the highest I’ve seen it in a long time, from burglaries to assaults to everything.”
Those facts bring no comfort to the Starks.
“Losing my mom and being treated like this and going through this, it is absolutely horrible,” Pat Stark said. “It’s unbelievable.”
The box trailer, a white 6 by 12 American Hauler Nighthawk box trailer with a tandem axle and four wheels, is still missing.
Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082