Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate

Shop classes hampered by theft of expensive equipment

Burglars have stolen almost $40,000 worth of equipment from Del Norte High School in the past week and a half.

The latest in the string of burglaries happened early Friday when tools were taken from the agricultural department, said Principal Coleen Parker.

On Feb. 17, a group of three people wearing masks entered the auto shop at the high school and stole two welding machines - one that was purchased just three days prior, Parker said. They used an early '90s black Ford Explorer to haul them away, she added.

"We believe it's somebody that has keys," said Parker.

A lone burglar returned Feb. 19, stealing more tools from the auto shop, Parker said.

"They cleaned us out," said Jeff Van Pelt, who is the instructor for the auto mechanic vocational program at the high school.

In addition to the welding machines, they took hand tools, air tools and saw drills, Van Pelt said.

Crescent City Police have interviewed several people, including one on Friday who authorities suspect is linked to the burglaries, said Police Lt. Garrett Scott.

The thefts dealt a huge blow to the auto program, which has nearly 100 students enrolled in it. The students are taught how to change brakes and oil, conduct services on transmissions and change tires. Students were gearing up to overhaul engines, but that project has been delayed until the equipment can be replaced, Van Pelt said.

The students have been reduced to using a small set of tools and a single grinder that was recently purchased, Van Pelt said.

"We have kids waiting in line to grind stuff," he said.

Funds to replace the equipment will come from insurance except for the $10,000 deductible the Del Norte Unified School District will have to pay, said Superintendent Don Olson.

"It's always upsetting when you build a program like Mr. Van Pelt has done and have almost all of your essential tools stolen," said Olson.

The burglaries also put a kink in the Del Norte Future Farmers of America agricultural mechanics team that was gearing up for competitions based around the skills its members learn in the auto program, Van Pelt said.

Team members will join the competitionsnext week, Van Pelt said. The team went to the state finals last year, he added.

"Hopefully somebody steps forward to put an end to this, it's insulting," said Van Pelt.

Anyone with information regarding the burglaries is encouraged to contact the Police Department at 464-2133 or the Crescent City Crime Tip Line anonymously at 218-4229.

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