Florida Man's Excavator Rampage Causes $2M Damage

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komatsu excavator parked outside Fla. walmart after running into automotive department wall
A man stole this Komatsu excavator in Gainesville, Florida, and drove into a wall at Walmart, along with causing a total of $2 million in damage to the store and other businesses.
Gainesville Police Department

A Florida man went on a rampage with a stolen excavator September 11 in Gainesville, eventually crashing into a Walmart and doing $2 million worth of damage.

The Komatsu excavator valued at $350,000 was stolen from Watson Construction after being hotwired, according to police and media reports.

Jesse Charles Smith, 47, was charged with grand theft, property damage and resisting arrest.

Gainesville police were called at about 8 p.m. to the Walmart, where Smith was allegedly inside the store armed with a machete after he drove into a wall at the store.

Police determined he had stolen the excavator from Watson Construction where he drove into four of the company’s buildings and ran through a chain-link fence. He also damaged two other businesses, running over another chain-link fence, hitting a utility pole and other damage.

In the Walmart parking lot, he knocked over a light pole and damaged a loading dock before driving into the store’s wall. Police found him in the store, where he had brought in a machete but later dropped it.

{Related Content: A Detective's Perspective on Preventing Equipment Theft}

Theft-Prevention Tips

The National Equipment Register offers these tips to prevent equipment theft:

  • Ensure alarms and lighting are all operating properly.
  • If you are getting a high number of false alarms, thieves may be testing your responsiveness; watch for vehicles “casing” your property. Contact local police.
  • Test cameras in daylight and after dark.  Are you getting usable images of license plates, faces, and vehicles?
  • Make sure fences and gates provide a complete barrier to adjoining businesses and vacant land. Don’t assume they are intact. Walk your fence line to be sure nothing has been tampered with.
  • Conduct a security survey of the yard and buildings. Walk around the property to see if there are vulnerable points of access or cover.
  • Move light or highly targeted equipment into service bays or more secure areas of the yard.
  • Be sure where machines and trucks are parked does not provide cover to thieves.
  • Communicate with neighboring businesses; raise their awareness so that thefts in progress are recognized. Be sure their staff have your emergency contact information.
  • Designate someone to check up on the facility at different times. Random activity at your location could spoil a thief’s planning.
  • Don’t leave anything on a trailer. Secure any trailers, whether loaded or not, so that thieves cannot use them to steal your equipment.