Thieves swipe entire Baker, Minn., landscaping building
As the owner of a landscaping business, Lance Akers has suffered through minor thefts of building materials.
But never an entire building.
Akers was driving down Old Highway 52 past the small Clay County town of Baker about 1 a.m. Wednesday when he turned his head to see the steel building he'd taken possession of three weeks earlier.
Instead, he saw only empty space.
"I honestly thought the wind had taken it down," he said.
Upon closer inspection of the site, which had drifted over with snow, it became clear: Someone had stolen his building. All of it. Every last scrap of metal.
Akers said it took him two minutes to convince a police dispatcher he was serious when he reported the theft.
"You can't make this stuff up," he said.
The Clay County Sheriff's Office has no suspects in the caper, Detective Jason Hicks said Thursday.
"I'm kind of at a loss on this one," he said. "It's very strange."
Akers bought the building and planned to relocate it to his business, Akers Landscaping, near his home on Lake Lizzie northwest of Pelican Rapids. He hoped to have it up by June 1 to house a new retail outlet for landscaping supplies as part of his business.
Shortly after taking possession, he and some helpers stripped the tin siding and metal roofing off the 32-by-48-foot structure, leaving only the metal framework standing.
"The heck of it is the very last day we were there after we finished taking off the steel ... we went and undid every single nut and bolt on the whole thing, greased them and retightened them so when we came back we could just zap everything off with impacts (wrenches) and take it in a very short order," he said. "Somebody beat me to it."
Akers said he hadn't owned the building long enough to have it insured. He estimated the loss at about $10,000.
"I'm beside myself. You want to talk about a major hit to a small business, this is it," he said.
Baker residents who live near the elevator reported seeing people working on the building in broad daylight about two weeks ago, Akers said.
"You want to talk about audacity. It's just unreal to me. A guy just doesn't know whether to laugh or cry," he said.
Hicks said the thieves used a torch to cut the bolts anchoring the framework, and they would have needed a large trailer to haul the material. Some of the metal roofing sheets that were piled next to the frame measured 18 feet in length, while some of purlins, or rafter support beams, stretched 24 feet long, Akers said. The structural steel was colored with a dull, red oxide paint, he noted.
"Whoever stole it had to have taken it on Highway 52 somewhere, and this thing would have stuck out like a sore thumb," he said.
Hicks believes the thieves stole the building with the intent of putting it up somewhere else.
"I don't think for a second it was stolen for scrap," he said.
Akers hopes media attention will help generate tips to identify the culprits. Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call the Clay County Sheriff's Office at (218) 299-5151.
"I want 'em. I want 'em bad," he said.
Akers said he's been in contact with the office of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who is among those co-sponsoring the Metals Theft Prevention Act.
"I flat-out offered to testify," he said. "Whoever did this took metal theft to a whole new level."