3 suspects arrested in North Bay power tool theft

SANTA ROSA (KTVU) -- Sonoma County authorities have arrested three suspects in connection with the theft of high-end tools and more arrests could be possible.

Authorities said Wayne Lindsey, 23, of Firebaugh, Jeremy Escover, 36, and Larry Echols, 34, both of Fresno, were being held Friday at the Sonoma County Jail each on a bail of $300,000. Authorities said a van they were traveling in was reported stolen out of Atascadero.

Officials said the arrests may serve as a significant break in a series of similar burglaries at North Bay hardware stores.

Investigators said the thieves appear to be very methodical with the way they operate and tend to target the same type of merchandise up and down California.

"You see they're real organized in the way they move," said Sonoma County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Crum. "They know exactly what they're looking for."

Belkorp Ag is a tractor dealer on Moorland Avenue in Santa Rosa and it had not been previously targeted.

Chris Hale, the store's manager, said the chain-link fence and a reinforced door would deter burglars who have targeted Stihl brand equipment, which retails for $200 to $700.

"All the weed eaters, blowers, and chainsaws were gone," said Hale, while showing his Stihl merchandise, which was taken and then returned by deputies.

Hale was alerted on his cell phone Thursday around 5 a.m. and his security cameras captured between seven and eight masked men, who broke into the store and swiftly grabbed about four dozen items.

It took them less than three minutes to get out with $15,000 worth of merchandise.

"They used a grinder to break the door locks and gate," said Hale, who is the regional manager for John Deere. "Then took an ax to the windows and the glass doors."

Hale arrived to find shattered glass and the suspects gone, but as he was watching the heist on his phone he was also guiding law enforcement with a description of the burglars and vehicle.

They only made it a few miles before a Rohnert Park police officer tracked them down.

"I'm really stoked they got them," Hale said. "It's a big deal. There are a lot of us, getting hit for a long time. We want it to stop."

Last summer, another Santa Rosa Stihl dealer was targeted by what appear to be the same suspects. Surveillance video from that theft shows them driving a white van just like the most recent theft.

With law enforcement officers in pursuit, the suspects didn't give up easily.

"The driver opened his door and it looked like he got pushed out by another passenger (who) landed on the ground," Crum said.

The van fled from the scene and authorities believe there were two other men inside the vehicle, which was found after spike strips flattened its tires.

"So there are two or three people who got away," Crum said. "They may have dropped them off at a secondary vehicle or may have run off on foot somewhere. But we caught three of them, and we are having some nice conversations with them."

Investigators said they suspect the burglars are low-level hires and that a mastermind, who cases stores and sells the goods, is directing the break-ins.

Workers at the North Bay shops that have been targeted said they hope the string of burglaries will stop with the three arrests.

"We're getting a lot of calls (and) everyone's excited they caught them," Hale said. "Especially the guys that have been hit before."

By KTVU reporter Debora Villalon.