Thieves make off with auto body repair shop’s trailer and $200,000 in tools

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – It wasn’t just an everyday theft.

A team of auto body repair techs from the metro say thieves ripped them off for over $200,000 in tools and computerized car keys.

Sitting around is not something Keith Starling and his crew enjoy, but that’s all they could do on Monday morning. Starling operates KC Dent. For the past month, he and his workers have been at Legends Toyota in KCK repairing hail-damaged cars. On Sunday morning, Starling says his trailer vanished along with over $200,000 in tools, not to mention keys to around 40 cars.

“This is the padlock from the trailer,” Starling said, holding up a hunk of twisted metal that had been cut from the storage trailer.

Starling told KCK Police burglars broke into the 24-foot trailer during the early hours on Sunday. When he’s doing contract work on a thousand cars, as he’s doing in Wyandotte County, Starling says he and his crew often keep the keys to as many as 50 dealer cars.

“We’re probably looking at about $30,000 in keys to be replaced. That's just in keys on cars,” Starling said.

What’s worse for Starling and his staff is the stolen tools. Starling says most of them are professional grade, and some are impossible to replace. Starling says his crew of eight is out, on average, $25,000 apiece in high-tech repair tools.

“You took the stuff that allows me to make money. I can't even make money to get myself back out of it,” Starling lamented.

Most of Starling’s contract workers are traveling professionals, who travel from one mass repair job to another, repairing hundreds of hail-damaged cars per stop.

“I've been in this business for 17 years, and this is a first,” Lew Freeman told FOX 4 News.

Freeman, a native of Bristol, Tennessee, travels the nation for seven months at a time, and, with no tools, he can’t continue to the next city, and the next paying job.

“If this storm ended right now, and the dealer said, 'we're not going to do anymore cars,' I can't go to Minnesota because I don't have any more tools,” Freeman said.

KCK Police Spokesperson Tom Tomasic told FOX 4 News that very often, stolen trailers are recovered, but the contents are much harder to locate. Starling says KC Dent also runs a retail location in Shawnee, and he says none of his customers’ cars at that facility were involved in this theft.

Police found the damaged trailer about three miles from the dealership in Kansas City, Kan.

Starling says all of those stolen keys are worthless since all of the cars are being re-keyed. He says the tools are of personal worth to many of these workers. One of the techs told FOX 4 News, 'It's a shame when you can't provide a living for your family.'

If you have information that can help police solve this crime, please contact the KC Crimestoppers Tipline at (816) 474-TIPS.