Since the Gila County Sheriff’s Office took over patrol in the Star Valley area in July from the Payson Police Department, deputies have kept occupied with a high number of vehicles versus elk collisions, thefts, burglaries and tagging.
“It has consistently been busy in Star Valley,” said Gila County Det. George Ratliff.
Most recently, Tree Pro, off Cornerstone Way, was broken into and nearly everything inside was taken, as well as two work trucks from the company’s maintenance yard. While authorities have since recovered the badly damaged trucks, they are still searching for the thieves.
Ratliff said he has several leads on the case, including blood left behind by one of the thieves, but has not made any arrests.
The break-in at Tree Pro is just one in a series of break-ins. Since September, there have been at least nine burglaries in the Star Valley area, as well as three thefts, according to sheriff’s office records.
Ratliff said he attributes the majority of burglaries to one man, Kenneth Leon Hutchings, 30, of Payson; however, Hutchings is not tied to the recent Tree Pro break-in.
In early January, Hutchings was sentenced to one-and-a- half years for third degree attempted burglary of a Star Valley home. Ratliff said he hopes to tie Hutchings to several other residential burglaries, but is waiting on lab results.
Hutchings has a distinct style that sets him apart from other thieves, Ratliff said.
He consistently took inconsequential items from cars, like CDs, but would leave valuable items, Ratliff said.
In addition, Hutchings “left good evidence behind,” including distinct buttons from the back of his jeans, and footprints.
Ratliff explained that once a thief gets away with a burglary successfully, they do it again the same way.
Hutchings alleged break-in spree happened in a two-week period in November.
Hutchings ultimately took a plea agreement with the county attorney for attempted burglary with the charges of theft and resisting arrest dismissed.
Hutchings was also sentenced at the same time to two-and-a-half years for aggravated DUI.
For Hutchings, this was not the first time he has been arrested by police.
In November 2009, Hutchings pled guilty to consumption of liquor in a vehicle by a driver/passenger.
In July 2006, Hutchings pled guilty to criminal damage and third degree burglary. In October 2005, Hutchings pled guilty to theft.
In addition, since 1999, Hutchings has also pled guilty to underage consumption, issuing a bad check, possession of marijuana, consuming liquor in public and another theft charge.
Since Hutchings’ arrest and conviction, the sheriff’s office said the number of burglaries has gone down considerably.
The sheriff’s report log reflects this trend. In November, there was one attempted burglary, five burglaries, one theft and one vehicle theft.
In December, there was one burglary, one theft and one vehicle theft.
On top of burglaries, the sheriff’s office has been responding to a number of graffiti calls. The back of Circle K was tagged, along with other businesses just off Highway 260.
The sheriff’s office said it has increased patrol, but said business owners need to work together and look out for each other.
“Report anything suspicious,” Ratliff said. “Awareness is the key.”
In Payson, PPD Chief Don Engler said recently there have been a few home burglaries, but he does not know yet if they are connected to one individual or group.
Statistically, in 2009 Payson had an average number of burglaries. There were an estimated 106 throughout the year, although the final year count has not been completed, Engler said.
In 2008, Payson had 92 burglaries, far lower than 2007 when there were 146.
Like Star Valley, in 2007, a large number of the burglaries were tied to one man.
Payson police have also noticed a slight uptick in vehicle burglaries recently, Engler said.
In late January, there were three vehicle burglaries in one day, the majority on unlocked cars.
“They try doors until they find an open door and take anything they can find that is not nailed down,” Engler said. Leaving behind car stereos, thieves take CDs, iPods and cash.