ST. GEORGE — Two suspects are in jail after they were allegedly caught stealing equipment from a construction site in Washington City. A security system installed on the site alerted the owner who called authorities. The police caught the suspects in the act.
The recent incident is one of a rising number of reports in Washington City.
On Monday officers responded to a construction site where a new home was being built in Washington City after an individual called the police department reporting a theft in progress shortly before midnight, according to charging documents filed in support of the arrests.
Washington City Police Lt. Kory Klotz told St. George News the site was monitored by a security system that alerted the owner whenever there was activity on the property.
The owner updated emergency dispatch with suspect and vehicle information while officers were still driving to the scene, advising that two individuals were in the process of taking a trailer loaded with building materials.
Officers arrived to find an enclosed trailer connected to a vehicle and a man in the driver’s seat who was preparing to drive off just as officers were pulling into the lot.
At the scene, officers spoke to the property owner who said the trailer, valued at more than $7,500, was supposed to be kept at the site, adding that no one had given anyone permission to enter the property, nor had they authorized anyone to remove any of the equipment or materials from the site.
The driver was identified as 36-year-old Richard Lance Rustad. There was a woman in a second vehicle located on the property, identified as 44-year-old Amy Jo Banner. Both suspects live in St. George.
Officers determined the trailer was still locked and contained more than $2,000 in equipment and supplies.
Klotz said Ruston initially told police he worked for the company and was removing the items for his boss. These statements proved false when officers spoke to the property owner, who said that Ruston did not work for the company, nor did he have permission to remove anything from the site.
Banner told authorities she also worked at the site, which “obviously turned out to not be true,” Klotz said.
“Eventually both suspects did admit they were there to steal the trailer, equipment and wood supplies,” Klotz said. “Items they were going to sell, pawn or whatever they had to do get their fix on their ‘new’ drug addictions.”
The suspects were arrested and searched. In Rustad’s front pocket, officers reportedly found a small package of suspected heroin, along with a straw that contained the same substance.
Authorities also recovered several packages containing liquid marijuana from the vehicle the suspect was also using to haul the trailer and was within reach of the driver, the officer noted. Banner was also searched, and officers recovered a pill in her front pocket that was later determined to be a Schedule 3 narcotic. Authorities also recovered a number of packages containing liquid marijuana inside of the vehicle she was driving.
Both suspects were transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility and booked into jail. Ruston is facing second-degree felony theft, and both are facing misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance and paraphernalia charges.
Banner also faces one second-degree felony count of theft by deception.
Construction thefts increasing
Klotz said the department is seeing an uptick in the number of thefts being reported that involve construction sites, adding these types of thefts typically involve equipment or materials that are being stolen and then sold for “quick cash.”
He went on to say they are finding that many of the suspects involved in these types of crimes need to turn the items quickly, and many then use the money to purchase narcotics.
The incident reported Monday was unique, Klotz said, in that the owner had a camera system monitoring the site that alerted him remotely. This enabled him to see the activity and alert authorities immediately.
Klotz went on to say that barring a live security guard, a quality video surveillance system is the next best thing when it comes to protecting an owner’s investment, considering the significant amount of money that is typically tied up in building materials and equipment needed in the construction industry.
Installing high-grade lighting can also protect the site and even deter criminals from picking that particular location to break into or steal from, he said.
“Criminals look for homes or lots that are dark,” he said. “That way they can slip in and out without being seen.”
He also said that keeping a record of each piece of equipment, as well as the serial number if applicable, will assist officers in identifying the items if they are stolen. Pawn shops document the serial number to each item they take in, if available, which also helps investigators when they are looking through pawn records to find items that are stolen.
“Serial numbers are key in recovering stolen property,” Klotz said. “That way we can identify a particular item by the serial number provided by the victim – which removes any doubt as to who the rightful owner is.”
Ed. Note: A new Utah law generally prohibits the release of arrest booking photos until after a conviction is obtained.
This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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