A 14-year-old boy allegedly stole a 40-ton Caterpillar scraper from a construction site June 2 and led police on a lengthy chase that ended when he turned the 40-foot-long machine toward multiple police cars and refused orders to stop. Two officers fired at the teen, who was struck twice and remains in critical condition.
The equipment was taken from a Tucson, Ariz., road and bridge building site where it was parked in a riverbed, said Brian Andrews, a spokesperson for the Ashton Company, which owns the scraper. Andrews said the keys were not in the earthmover and an internal investigation is taking place to determine how the machine was stolen. He declined to comment further.
Heavy equipment theft is a growing problem. Between $300 million to $1 billion of off-road equipment is stolen in the U.S. each year, according to the National Equipment Register. Regional summits are being held to help owners and law enforcement work together to prevent theft more effectively.
Tucson police discovered the theft in progress after the teen hit a power box and knocked down several utility poles, causing sporadic power outages. Calls to 911 also alerted officers to cars being forced off the road by the scraper. The subsequent police chase reached speeds up to 40 mph.
“This vehicle with its size and weight could have done potentially great damage to (any) vehicle and be potentially fatal to the driver,” police Sgt. Carlos Valdez told the Associated Press.
The teen was upset about his family moving away from Tucson, according to his attorney, Gregory J. Kuykendall. “He was acting impulsively when he stole the earthmover,” Kuykendall said. “He’s just an immature kid who had bad judgment and didn’t know what to do once he got out on the street.”
Multiple criminal charges, including theft, aggravated assault and endangering the lives of officers, are expected, and a routine police investigation into whether the shooting was justified has begun.