At least 13 Ford trucks and vans — all work vehicles — have either been stolen or broken into in southern Sonoma County recently, prompting law enforcement to issue warnings to owners and step up investigation efforts.
Nine cases were from the Petaluma area and four from Rohnert Park, according to law enforcement.
The crew of thieves were especially active in Petaluma Wednesday night into early Thursday. That morning, police received five reports of stolen or burglarized Ford vehicles, Petaluma Sgt. Ken Savano said.
"We've contacted the auto theft task force to coordinate, identify trends and work collectively to combat the problem," Savano said Friday.
The crew of thieves strikes between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
They're finding their targets parked mainly on streets, both outside of homes and businesses.
Owners find their vehicles either gone, or still there but stripped of several thousand dollars' worth of tools and equipment.
Most of the stolen vehicles — predominently F-350 trucks and Econoline vans — are quickly recovered. They've been found along roads in Novato, Petaluma and Penngrove.
"They're stealing them, taking them to a second location where they empty the contents, then to a third location to dump the car. It's less about vehicle theft and more about stealing the tools," CHP Officer Jon Sloat said.
Victim Paul Ongaro is a contractor whose family plumbing, heating and cooling business lost two Ford vans full of equipment in the span of about a week.
Both vans had been stolen from Rohnert Park homes of employees, one parked in a driveway and one on the street.
Ongaro has gotten both vans back, but about $20,000 in tools, plumbing cameras and equipment was gone from the first van. He was working with insurance on the Feb. 26 theft when a week later the second van disappeared. He said the loss from the second van was less.
Ongaro has issued a warning to others in the business through an association website.
"We got the word out as best we can .<TH>.<TH>. letting all of our members and letting all of the supply houses know. It's a big hit," he said.
Reports to Petaluma officers Thursday morning included a call to Solar City on North McDowell Boulevard in east Petaluma where three vans had been burglarized, Savano said.
The vans had been parked along the street and had been forced open, had their ignitions busted and property stolen, Savano said.
"It was definitely a bummer. Our crews who go out to install solar get in really early in the morning" and found their trucks broken into and missing tools, said Molly Canales, Solar City spokeswoman.
A substantial amount of items were taken, she said, including pipe and wiring.
"It's obviously a concern for us," Canales said, adding that company vehicles now are parked in a back lot behind a locked gate.
Law enforcement officers warned owners of such vehicles to be extra vigilant and asked citizens to report anything suspicious to local police.
Owners also can help themselves by having an inventory of tools and equipment with serial numbers listed kept in their work vehicles, Sloat said.
(You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or email@example.com.)