Thousands of dollars worth of cigarettes were stolen from a Freeland gas station in an early morning burglary last month and the thief remains at large.
Detective Ed Wallace, a spokesman for the Island County Sheriff’s Office, said an investigation has been launched to find the perpetrator but officers have yet to make an arrest.
Freeland Shell on the corner of Fish Road and Highway 525 was burglarized at about 2:20 a.m. March 20. The bandit reportedly gained access to the building by breaking in through a drive-through window. The burglar is believed to have exited in similar fashion, shattering a glass front door.
According to Wallace, the thief made off with a single item: cartons of cigarettes. The estimated value of the pilfered smokes is about $4,400.
“It adds up quick; that’s like three packs,” said Wallace, jokingly referring to the high cost of cigarettes these days.
Price per pack ranges from $9 to $11, and the average price of a carton is about $95. That works out to about 46 cartons taken during the burglary.
A Shell station manager declined to comment per company policy.
The gas station, which includes a convenience store and popular daytime eatery, has been hit by cigarette thieves before. In a nearly identical incident in February 2013, three people wearing masks broke through the drive-through window and stole the equivalent of $10,000 — 110 cartons of cigarettes and 120 cartons of chewing tobacco.
The burglars were never caught.
In both cases, the motive was likely to resell the stolen merchandise, Wallace said.
“That’s a lot to smoke,” he said.
The Record learned of the burglary from the police blotter. The 9-1-1 calls also included another incident at Pickles Deli in Clinton. Surveillance video showed a person trying to kick in the front door.
According to store owner Kim Bailey, the incident happened around 6:30 a.m. It was unclear from the video if the person was a male or female. Bailey noted that small scale crime at Ken’s Korner seems to be on the rise, citing the theft of a company cart in the shopping center’s internal hallway, a raided soda machine, etc.
“It’s been pretty bad,” she said.
According to Wallace, the two recent incidents don’t appear to be related.
“There’s always a possibility, but there’s no evidence of a link right now,” he said.
Breaking windows or doors, referred to as “smash and grabs” by police, are a common way burglars gain access to lock premises. Wallace recommends outside lighting and video surveillance equipment as deterrents.
Anyone with information about the crime is urged to contact the Island County Sheriff’s Office, South Precinct, at 360-321-4400.