COOPERSVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) - Investigators in three counties are trying to take the wheels off what may be a burglary ring hitting local auto dealerships.
A total of 19 vehicles at the Betten-Baker dealership in Coopersville had all their wheels removed, and investigators believe the theft is related to other similar thefts in the area.
The Betten-Baker thefts were reported Tuesday morning. Most of the vehicles hit were Buick Enclaves with 18- or 20-inch wheels.
"Pretty gutsy to walk in here with the highway right here," said Tom Kuzner, Betten-Baker new car sales manager. "Had to be a few people with this many tires."
The burglary happened sometime between midnight and 7 a.m. Tuesday. Kuzner was still trying to comprehend the quick and audaciousness of the crime Thursday.
"Just how... How you couldn't be noticed off the highway?" he said, looking at the row of high-end Enclaves sitting on their brake rotors.
Tires and rims worth about $60,000 were stolen. Insurance will cover a small portion of that.
The thieves knew exactly which vehicles to target.
"They had left the one that was sitting here," said Kuzner. "It was basic with out the chrome tires."
That vehicle left untouched by the crooks was a base-model Enclave.
"It didn't really damage the vehicles at all," said Kuzner. "We were quite fortunate at that."
Investigators say the burglars drove a large truck or trailer -- something big enough to haul away 60 tires.
And they brought tools that allowed them to work fast. This wasn't a couple of guys with a lug wrench. Investigators say the burlgars jacked up the frames, slipped a new bricks underneath the frame, loosened the lugs and took the wheels.
But the thieves' actions may seem inconspicuous to some people on a car lot, even in the middle of the night.
"The general citizens can see where he or she might not be terribly suspicious," said Ottawa County Sheriff's Department Lt. Mark Bennett. "But by and large, those companies and businesses don't operate that time of morning."
Betten-Baker management didn't think surveillance cameras and locking lugs were needed in quiet Coopersville. But security measures are in place now as they hope to avoid a next time.
Authorities are also investigating a similar theft at a Montcalm County car dealership.
On Wednesday, deputies from the Montcalm County Sheriff's Department were called to the Ed Koehn dealership on Carson City Road in Eureka Township.
Six sets of new tires and rims had been stolen from Ford vehicles on Tuesday evening. That stolen merchandise is worth more than $26,000.
Also stolen was a white 2010 Ford Econoline cargo van, which was priced at more than $30,000, according to the Ed Koehn website.
The Kent County Sheriff's Department told 24 Hour News 8 a similar but smaller incident happened at Van Andel and Flikkema over an eight-month period.
"We also want to alert the businesses, too, the dealerships, that they be on the lookout and take the precautions of lighting or moving the vehicles in a certain location," said Bennett. "Whatever they think is necessary."
Anyone with information or who saw suspicious activity in the area of any of the thefts is asked to call local authorities or Silent Observer.
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