FRIO COUNTY, Texas – As if home builders didn’t already have to contend with skyrocketing costs, Kevin Gear had three loads of lumber stolen in less than a week from a construction site in northern Frio County.
“Almost probably three-quarters of a whole house,” Gear said. “This was just night after night and trying to catch them.”
Finally, the fourth time proved to be the charm after the Frio County Sheriff’s Office teamed up with Sheriff Randy Brown in neighboring Medina County.
Raul Alaquinez and Baldemar Valdez from the Somerset area were arrested, and the fourth load of lumber was recovered.
“You don’t have a chance, so stay out of Frio and Medina counties,” was the message for the suspects from Pedro Salinas, Frio County chief deputy.
Gear said he’s also grateful “to Medina County for getting there right on time, and then Frio County coming in to wrap it up at the end.”
Salinas said northern Frio County is experiencing a housing boom and similar thefts at construction sites.
“With the cost of material nowadays, we’re seeing more and more of it,” Salinas said, but not repeated thefts at the same construction site.
He said the suspects are charged with felony theft, but they could later face charges of organized criminal activity.
Salinas said he also expects to make more arrests if his investigators confirm the materials are allegedly being sold to a contractor or business on San Antonio’s South Side.
It’s also possible the thefts at Gear’s construction site could be an inside job.
Each time loads of lumber were delivered, “they were being stolen shortly thereafter,” Salinas said.
Gear said the fourth load was stolen within hours of it arriving at the job site.
Luckily, his more than $30,000 in replacement costs are covered, Gear said, unlike other builders.
“They could have to eat those costs and, you know, totally lose on the job,” Gear said, or possibly go out of business.
Gear said he still had to pay his workers who had shown up only to find there was no lumber for the job.
Also, he said due to rapid inflation, the amount of replacement lumber he was buying had become more expensive.
“It’s just a loss after loss,” Gear said.
Still, he said, the arrests will help him prove to his insurance company the lumber was indeed stolen.
On Tuesday afternoon, Gear’s crew was framing the houses he’d planned to build with the lumber that had been recovered, as well as yet another new load of lumber.