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ATV theft rate escalating
Police say few of the stolen all-terrain vehicles are ever recovered.
 being stolen in Southwestern Ontario at an alarming rate -- and only a fraction are ever recovered, police say. With new, high-end four-wheelers costing more than $11,000, they've become "a hot commodity during this season," said Const. Bob MacDonald of Oxford Community police.

His force investigates ATV thefts, "in the high season, probably two or three times a week."

Thieves often will scout rural areas and, if they notice someone using an ATV, will return when they think the owner is away from the property.

Sometimes, the owner will have left the key in the vehicle. Often, thieves roll the machine onto a truck, drive away and circumvent the ignition later.

In Huron County, "We've had over 20 (stolen) already this year," said OPP Const. Don Shropshall.

That's well ahead of last year's pace, when 50 were reported stolen all year.

Just last week, provincial police in Huron County chased two ATVs stolen in daylight and caught up with them in Seaforth.

"We've had an awful problem with (stolen) ATVs," Shropshall said.

In Middlesex and in Chatham-Kent, police investigate two or more stolen ATVs each week.

A couple of weeks ago, an $11,000 machine was stolen when its owner was away from his property for just two hours, said Middlesex OPP Const. Angela Baker. It wasn't insured.

"We collect a handful, but we lose dozens more" to theft, Baker said.

Many end up at so-called "chop shops" for dismantling into parts that can't be traced. Others go out of the region or province for resale.

"It's been big business," Baker said.

Few of the vehicles are insured and fewer licensed because owners don't need a licence if they use the vehicles on their own property.

That makes them more difficult to trace if they go missing and easier to sell if they're stolen, MacDonald said.

Some owners will sheepishly discover there's a reason they got a good deal on the used ATV they just bought and will call Crime Stoppers (1-800-222-8477) to report it, he said.

Chuck Collins, sales team leader at Hully Gully the Ultimate Toy Store in London, said theft is a growing concern among ATV owners and buyers.

"Basically, it's got to the point where people are saying, 'it's the best farm vehicle I've got, but I've had some stolen so I'm not getting another one.' "

The most popular new four-wheelers -- recreational toys to many rural residents, but equipment to many farmers -- cost $6,000 to $7,000, Collins said.

Some farmers sink a U-bolt into the concrete floor of a barn and secure their four-wheeler with a chain that can't be cut with bolt-cutters, he said.

After-market security options include disc locks, an $89 item that won't let the wheels move without a key, even if thieves bypass the ignition, and motion sensors and alarms ranging from $200 to $400.

Collins expects some models will soon be made with security codes that must be activated for the machine to start.

One manufacturer plans to integrate hidden Global Positioning Systems into its machines, so its owner can find the vehicle anywhere at any time.

Police advise owners to make sure they store their ATVs without keys in locked buildings.

Even better, police say, lock them with a heavy chain and padlock to a post inside a locked building.

Composed: 04/26/2004 | Modified: 04/26/2004

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