Florida police recover OOIDA member's stolen rig and cargo of beer

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 10/23/2014

A New Jersey owner-operator says he’s grateful to police for their quick response in helping him recover his stolen tractor-trailer earlier this week – with his cargo of beer still inside.

OOIDA Member Van Thomas, of West Orange, was hauling a load of 44,000 pounds of Miller High Life beer from Texas to Pompano Beach, Fla., when he discovered his truck and trailer stolen from a truck stop in Orlando on Oct. 20.

According to a police report, Thomas had parked the rig overnight at the truck stop, and slept in a nearby motel. When he returned the next morning to finish his delivery, the entire rig was nowhere to be found. For Thomas, who only recently got his own authority and started his own company less than a month ago, the experience was “devastating.”

“Everything I own, my hard work, it’s what I’ve put into it,” he said in a phone interview with “Land Line Now.”

“So it was devastating to have it taken.”

Thomas said he contacted police immediately, as well as local media, hoping to alert as many people as possible to be on the lookout for missing rig – a 2007 white Freightliner Cascadia and a 2005 white Wabash trailer. An alert was also issued via OOIDA’s TRACER system.

“I was counting on the news media to get involved so they could let my story be told so people could be on the lookout,” he said.

Police officers in the city of Hialeah, Fla., found Thomas’ tractor-trailer, and at least three other stolen commercial vehicles in an industrial warehouse area on Tuesday, Oct. 21.

Lt. Joe DeJesus, with the city’s auto theft division, said it’s extremely rare to recover a stolen commercial vehicle with its load intact.

“I’ve recovered tons of (stolen commercial vehicles),” he said in a phone interview with Land Line. “In 98 or 99 percent, I’m just finding them empty. With a closed dry-van trailer (like Thomas’), the thieves really don’t know what they’re getting inside. It’s like a Cracker Jack box.”

DeJesus speculated that the thieves must not have thought “the Champagne of Beers” would have much appeal on South Florida’s black market.

“Miller High Life beer might be a hard product to move down here,” he said. “If it had been (an imported beer), they probably would’ve taken it.”

Thomas was actually in the middle of recording a live interview with a TV news station in Orlando when he got a phone call about the truck’s recovery.

“I just want to thank the police in Miami and in Orlando for getting involved,” he said. “I really appreciate the hard work and dedication they have in getting my truck back. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to recuperate from this. I’m still trying to build this company.”

Although the cargo was recovered, he said it’s unclear whether or not the load can be delivered, since the cargo seal was compromised.

Thomas said his business, MT World Express, is named in honor of his late father, Melvin Thomas. He said he plans to install a tracking device on his vehicle in the future.

“Land Line Now” News Anchor Reed Black contributed to this report.

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