SARASOTA COUNTY - There's a growing crime trend against those who work to keep your yard mowed. A number of Suncoast lawn service vehicles and the expensive equipment inside have been targeted by thieves.
North Port resident Brian Aleshire is locking down everything he uses for his lawn and pest control business after thieves stole his truck and trailer full of equipment. "They came up in here and ripped where your key goes in. They ripped it all apart and stuck a screwdriver in to start it up." Making it hard to keep his business running.
The truck and trailer were found near Tampa -- minus his lawn mower, blowers, weed eaters and trimmers. "Very strong impact. I have even lost customers just because I could not go out and do my job."
He says the thieves took more than $8,000 worth of gear, and that insurance paid for about 25% of it. He had to use his savings to replace the equipment, and he has since already caught someone trying to do it again. "People have come by and tried to take the new equipment, which was replaced by the old."
Taking more then just money. "My children and now afraid to go to sleep because they are afraid someone is going to break in."
Brian is far from alone. Law enforcement officials tell ABC 7 that more and more cases are coming from all around the Suncoast. "In the past six months it has been a concern in the city and the whole tri-county area," says Captain Anthony Sirianni with the North Port Police Department.
They say they've seen seven similar cases since the first of the year there. There have been at least four cases in other parts of Sarasota County, and 19 lawn equipment thefts in Charlotte County just last month. "It seems they are coming in from other areas and taking the equipment and them disseminating elsewhere."
It appears the lawn looters may be driving around the area scouting potential victims. "You know who belongs in your neighborhood and who doesn't. If you see someone suspicious or someone walking, someone in a different vehicle, someone looking at your neighbors stuff then call the Police. Better safe then sorry."
"I want the community to be aware. Keep a more watchful eye." In the meantime Brian says he will continue to do whatever it takes so he can continue to put food on the table. "I thought I was doing everything that needed to be done. I am just going above and beyond now."
North Port Police say they're working closely with other nearby agencies to catch the crooks, saying they have also stepped up patrols and developed some suspects in their cases.