Local businesses experiencing vending machine vandalism, theft

By Abby Morris
STAR STAFF
amorris@starhq.com

   During the first half of November, several Carter County businesses have had vending machines located on their property broken into, vandalized and even stolen. At least 10 incidents of vending machine crime have been reported to the Elizabethton Police Deparment and Carter County Sheriff's Department.
   According to EPD Capt. Mike Peters, the crimes may be related.
   "It's usually one or two groups that are doing it when you have a large number of them going on," he said. "If you can solve one case, you usually solve 75 percent of them."
   According to police reports, individuals whose actions were "suspicious in nature" were seen around the location of at least one of the incidents.
   "We have a few leads that we're following, but nothing concrete yet," Peters said.
   Breaking into vending machines is not as easy as it may seem, according to Peters. "They have to do their homework," he said. "They have to know just where to pry." He added that newer vending machines have tighter security measures and usually have a triple door which forces those breaking in to make it past a second door in order to get into the compartment where the money is held.
   However, Peters said if someone knows how to pry the machine open, it can be accomplished rather quickly. "They seem to be able to get in them pretty quick if they have the right tools," he said.
   In two cases where the entire vending machine was stolen, it appeared the perpetrators backed a truck to the machine, lowered the tailgate, and tipped the machine into it, according to Peters. He believes the purpose was to move the machine to a more discreet location.
   The two machines that were stolen were both taken on Nov. 7. One was removed from the Whisper Creek apartment complex, 109 Reeser Road, and the other was taken from Mary's Beauty Shop, 1342 Milligan Highway, Johnson City. Police found the machines at a location off the Milligan Highway approximately a quarter of a mile from Happy Valley Elementary School, where they had apparently been taken to be opened and were left there.
   When the machines are broken into, an average of $20-40 is taken from the machine. "The real loss by the owner is not the money, but the damage done to the machine," Peters said, adding that damage caused by the break in can total as much as $1,500.
   According to EPD Deputy Chief Larry Shell, there are some extra measures that vending machine owners can take to make the machines more secure.
   Owners may want to consider installing more lighting around the machine to deter those attempting to break in to or vandalize it. Another option would be to install surveillance equipment.
   Peters said owners may want to consider securing the machines with cages like the ones found at rest stops along the interstate. "But it's not usually feasible to do that because of the cost," he said.