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Grab-and-dash burglars hit GF

Dwight Kouba of Auto Glass and Aftermarket looks at a broken window at the Gateway Drive business that was smashed by thieves to gain entrance in a weekend burglary. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

The surveillance video at DeMers Stor-All told the story: Two men in ski masks jumped the fence, kicked open a dead-bolted door to an office, snatched cash and skedaddled.

"They were literally in here for two minutes," co-owner Kim Johnson said.

The storage place at 1703 DeMers Ave. was one of eight businesses in the Grand Cities struck by smash-and-grab burglars over the weekend.

"It appears they might be related in that there was nothing sophisticated about method of entry -- a window or door was forced open or broken," said Lt. Rahn Farder of the Grand Forks Police Department.

Farder said investigators are analyzing video from some of the businesses.

"If we have some stills that we feel will be useful, we'll release them to the media," he said.

Rob Johnson, another co-owner of Demers Stor-All and brother-in-law of Kim, said he watched the video of thieves in the act.

"One guy had a black Carhartt coat with a hood with a ski mask," he said. "The other guy had a dark coat and the same type of mask."

Footprint clue

He said one culprit left a clue behind.

"You can see a footprint on the door, and there's a matching footprint in the snow that says 'Nike,' " he said.

Rob Johnson said his cameras captured the thieves about 4 a.m., and about 20 minutes before, they were caught on video stealing from another self-storage place.

Of the eight businesses burglarized, four were self-storage establishments. At those four places, only the offices were broken into and no storage units were affected.

Another pattern that emerged was the thieves' intent.

"They were just after one thing: money," said Dwight Kouba, owner of Auto Glass & Aftermarket at 2310 Gateway Drive.

Kouba got to work Monday morning to find a door broken open, broken glass on the floor and the furnace running full blast in his cold shop. He said the thief or thieves searched the cupboards to no avail and ended up carrying off the store's cash register.

Kouba said he's been at his location for 21 years and has been broken into a couple times. He's already taken steps like outdoor lighting and metal shrouds on his windows to deter thieves.

"You just can't stop 'em I guess," he said.

Gateway Storage and All Reasons Self Storage reported break-ins, but Monday neither business had found anything missing.

Jeff Heath, co-owner of A&L Siding at 1505 11th Ave. N., said doors at his business were pried open to get inside an office.

"They rifled through the file cabinets looking for cash," Heath said, adding that they got away with a small amount of money, but left behind laptops and tools.

Changing security

Heath said his business has been burglarized four times in the past 15 years and that this break-in is going to change how his business secures its doors.

With several business burglaries reported this month, Farder acknowledged that it seems to be an unusually high amount. He said it's too early in the year to speculate about statistics, but added that preliminary numbers from 2007 and 2008 appear similar.

Businesses with questions about security should call the department's community resource bureau at (701) 787-8000. Police encourage business owners and others to report suspicious activity to the same number.