Investigators say they could be dealing with the largest burglary ever committed in the history of Lamar County after a major grand theft auto incident at a Sulligent dealership.
“They were professionals, they knew what they were doing,” said West Alabama Ford owner Hayes Shirley. “They came in, they hit us hard, took the big-ticket items, then left.”
Shirley says thieves escaped with close to half-a-million dollars in cars, tools, cash, and other items. Shirley provided WCBI with exclusive security footage of the theft of his five brand new 2021 Ford F-250 trucks that went from late Monday night to early Tuesday morning.
“They stole a lot of tools, went through the desk, went through the office, stole a lot of the keys out of the building,” Shirley said. “It’s been a complete nightmare just trying to get the keys changed and figure out what is gone.”
Shirley said the thieves broke into the dealership itself first, ransacking the building. Then they used the stolen keys to make off with the first two trucks sometime around 12:10 a.m.
At around 3:48 a.m. they came back for the other three.
“They just parked right in front of the dealership, jumped out, unlocked the trucks, hopped in, and were gone in less than 30 seconds,” Shirley said.
Sulligent Police Chief Rick McDaniel says the dealership did not have a security system but the suspects’ level of efficiency when breaking in indicated prior experience.
“If you want to call it professionally done, their actions, the way they carried out the theft, this is not the first time this has been done,” he said, describing the suspects.
Chief McDaniel says they are in the midst of an on-going, large-scale investigation and are looking for at least four male suspects who had their faces covered during the burglary.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, but through this investigation, we have now learned at least five different dealerships throughout, Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi (Golden Triangle area) have been [burglarized] this way,” Chief McDaniel said.
The police chief says all those other burglaries happened within the last two months and believes the similarities they all share could point to some type of car theft ring.
Shirley believes they may have targeted his dealership after finding their Facebook page.
“They felt like it was a small town, the way we do, like it’s Mayberry and they just felt like it’d be easy in and easy out,” he said. “And it was for them that night.”
Shirley says that insurance will help cover some of the costs from the burglary and other local Ford dealerships have reached out to help.