FRIO COUNTY, Texas – As if home builders weren’t already dealing with skyrocketing costs, Kevin Gear had three truckloads of lumber stolen in less than a week from a construction site in northern Frio County.
“Almost probably three-quarters of an entire house,” Gear said. “It was just night after night and I was trying to catch them.”
Raul Alaquinez and Baldemar Valdez from the Somerset region were arrested and the fourth load of timber was recovered.
“You don’t stand a chance, so stay out of Frio and Medina counties,” was the message to the suspects from Pedro Salinas, deputy county chief of Frio.
Gear said he was also grateful “to Medina County for showing up on time and then to Frio County for coming in to wrap things up at the end.”
Salinas said northern Frio County is experiencing a housing boom and similar thefts from construction sites.
“With the cost of materials these days, we’re seeing more and more,” Salinas said, but not repeated thefts from the same job site.
He said the suspects were charged with theft, but could later face charges of organized criminal activity.
Salinas said he also expects to make more arrests if his investigators confirm the materials are allegedly being sold to a contractor or business on the south side of San Antonio.
It’s also possible that the thefts from the Gear construction site are an inside job.
Every time lumber loads were delivered, “they were stolen soon after,” Salinas said.
Gear said the fourth load was stolen hours after arriving at the job site.
Fortunately, its replacement costs of more than $30,000 are covered, Gear said, unlike other manufacturers.
“They might have to incur those costs and, you know, totally lose their jobs,” Gear said, or maybe go bankrupt.
Gear said he still had to pay his workers who showed up to find there was no wood for the job.
Also, he said, due to rapid inflation, the amount of replacement wood he was buying had become more expensive.
“It’s just one loss after loss,” Gear said.
Still, he said, the arrests will help him prove to his insurance company that the wood was indeed stolen.
On Tuesday afternoon, Gear’s team was framing the houses he planned to build with the lumber that had been salvaged, along with a new load of lumber.
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