Thieves Steal and Sell Pricey Batteries from Local Bus Business

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COLUMBIA - Someone stole $600 worth of batteries this weekend from four buses at the Gymnastics Express parking hub on South Bearfield Rd.  Company owner Jeff Conner said he discovered the theft Tuesday morning, when one of his buses booked by a nearby pre-school would not start. 

Conner said two $200 batteries were missing, as well as two $100 batteries.  Each weighs approximately 130 pounds, so Conner suspects more than one adult must have been involved in the offense.  One of the alleged offenders left a dirty handprint on the hood of one of the buses.

Upon contacting five local battery stores Tuesday morning, Conner found and retrieved one of the stolen batteries at Battery Outfitters at Nebraska Ave. and Providence Rd. He said he was able to identify the $200 battery as his based on a rope handle that had been severed prior to the theft.  He claimed he had to buy back the battery for $38. 

Conner said has not yet found the other three missing batteries, as none of the other battery stores in Columbia has reported purchasing any bus batteries recently.  He said he has had to pay out of pocket to replace the other batteries, as he does not have insurance on his equipment.

Connor said Battery Outfitters told him it did not know the battery had been stolen. The store disclosed to Conner it had surveillance video of the weekend's transactions, but the store refused to show it to Conner or KOMU 8 News. 

Conner said Battery Outfitters told him the invoice for the stolen battery had been sent to St. Louis and would be made available within a few days.  He said that invoice revealed the customer sold other batteries at the same time he sold Conner's.  Conner said although those other batteries did not belong to his buses, he presumed they could have been stolen property, as well.

Battery Outfitters declined to talk to KOMU 8 News about the incident, saying only that it has been in contact with the Columbia Police Department, with whom Conner filed a police report Tuesday.  The Columbia Police Department had not returned any of KOMU 8 News's calls for comment, as of Tuesday evening.

The Cottages of Columbia, a student housing complex adjacent to Conner's bus hub, told KOMU 8 News there had been no stolen property reports filed recently.

Nonetheless, Conner said nearby residents should take caution. 

"Somehow, find a way to keep [your cars] under lock and key.  Seeing that [my] batteries were easily accessible made it easier for the thieves to take the batteries," Conner said.

Conner said he has begun the process of installing hasps and locks on his buses' battery compartments.  He said if he wasn't able to put in the new batteries and locks himself, the expense from the theft would have been closer to $1500 in damages.

Conner said he will make up Tuesday's 12-14 canceled bus classes, which involve bringing gymnastics equipment-equipped buses to local pre-schools.

"When [stealing and vandalizing] happens to us, it disappoints the kids that we teach...probably 100 students were disappointed that they didn't get gym bus today," Conner said. "It's happened more frequently over the last year."