Last Updated: Tuesday, 4:33 p.m.
It was a theft as brazen as it was effective.
Ten days ago, the lock on the simple chain-link gate at the entrance of the bus depot, off of Bulldog Drive behind Flagler Palm Coast High School, was cut. A white vehicle drove in, with thieves on board. And two of the Flagler County school district’s newer 84-seat buses–the large ones–were stolen. A surveillance video catches them being driven out.
The buses were stolen the night of Saturday, July 27, between 9 and 9:20 p.m., according to a police report. (The stolen buses are numbers 20604 and 20605).
District officials did not uncover the theft until today. The 2007 Bluebird diesel buses were bought for just under $100,000, Facilities Director Mike Judd said. They each had logged 110,000 miles, but still had more than 10 years’ service ahead of them. The current value of the buses, including their on-board equipment such as GPS and VHS radio, was placed at $60,000 for each bus, according to the police report.
“They bring all the buses back in the summer from our off-site places,” School Superintendent Janet Valentine said. During the year, buses are also parked at a depot beyond Royal Palms Parkway, off of U.S. 1. “They went to bring a bus into the check-up station to be service before school starts, and went to look for this bus and another bus, and they were gone.”
Buses are periodically sent out for servicing to different vendors. An inventory of the fleet showed that the two buses in question were not among those.
The district is preparing its fleet for its roughly 85 daily routes, transporting 9,500 students over 8,000 miles a day. The thefts will not alter the routes, all of which will be covered, Valentine reassured.
The district’s fleet is insured, of course, so the district will not be out that money, and will have its buses replaced. But not before school starts. That means older buses will have to be brought into service to compensate. “because we had cut back , we had consolidated some routes,” Valentine said, “”but always you want buses that are available because we have athletics, we have buses that break down, we have buses that need to be serviced.”
The district is self-insured through the Northeast Florida Education Consortium. Judd said the adjuster will clarify whether the district will be reimbursed based on the buses’ new value or their value after several years on the road. “We’ll get a check relatively quickly from them,” he said. Meanwhile, he said, “we have plenty of buses. It should not impact our operations at all.”
The district was planning to buy five buses this year as well. That purchase will now be sped up.
“Unfortunately it was two of our newer—newer for us–air-conditioned buses,” the superintendent said.
From what officials have gathered so far, it appears that the thieves knew what they were doing. The buses are equipped with a state-of-the-art GPS system. That was immediately disabled (at 9:09 p.m. the night of the theft). “The last signal the GPS company received was right when they were stolen, so the last location was on the compound,” Judd said.
The police report describes the surveillance footage: “Upon viewing the security video Dep Nunziato observed a white passenger car, which appeared to be a white Chevrolet Impala. The vehicle entered the compound through locked security gates at the Bulldog Drive entrance at approximately 9:01 PM. The vehicle was out of sight for a short time and then reappeared at another security gate which leads to , at which time it appeared the suspect(s) cut the lock to the gate so the buses could exit the compound. The white vehicle then left the compound via Bulldog Drive. A short time later the two buses came into view and staged by the security gate. Approximately 3 minutes later the buses left through the Bulldog Drive gate and appeared to turn right toward SR 100.”
The video surveillance was turned over to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, which had yet to analyze the footage with better equipment than the internet-type access available to school officials. So it’s not yet known whether authorities have identified, of been able to identify, any characteristics about the suspected thieves.
In early July, thieves stole 10 school buses from a depot in Golf Manor, Ohio. All the buses were recovered in various locations not too far from the depot, leading police to believe that the heist was pulled off by teenagers. The thieves had smashed two of the buses together. Two weeks ago, a privately owned school bus was stolen in Miami-Dade, but in entirely different circumstances: its driver left the truck running as she left it to go to a check-cashing store. The bus was recovered less than a week later. In march in Chicago, eight school buses were stolen and later discovered in a scrap yard–in scraps. Four people were arrested, including the owner of the scrap yard.
Anyone with information on the Flagler County thefts should contact the Sheriff’s Office at 386/586-4801 or Crime Stoppers at 1-888-277-8477. You may remain anonymous and you could be eligible for a