Nfld. & Labrador

Backhoe robbery culprits knew their stuff, says backhoe operator

Two robberies in St. John's last week used stolen backhoes. Scott Jones, of Toromont Cat, says it takes know-how to operate a backhoe.

Exactly how easy is it to jump in a backhoe and drive away?

The stolen backhoe did extensive damage to the Dominion grocery store on Blackmarsh Road. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Stolen backhoes were used in two St. John's-area robberies this week and the RNC is unable to say whether the incidents are connected.

Scott Jones, of Toromont Cat, says whoever is behind the backhoe break-ins likely knew their way around the machinery.

Scott Jones works at Toromont Cat on Kenmount Road in St. John's. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"You'd have to have, to me, prior knowledge of how a backhoe operates," he said. "Take someone off Kenmount Road, I don't think you'd be doing it quite so simply."

In the early hours of Dec. 29, a backhoe was stolen and used to smash in the front window of a Lawtons Drugs in Paradise.

Whoever was responsible made away with an ATM containing an "undisclosed amount of cash," according to an RNC release sent Friday.

A front window at this Lawtons drug store in Paradise was ripped out some time overnight. (Geoff Bartlett/CBC)

Then, early on New Year's Day, it's believed two suspects stole a backhoe on Elizabeth Avenue in St. John's and drove it to Dominion on Blackmarsh Road.

They used the backhoe to smash the drive-thru window of the store's pharmacy and left on foot with a "large quantity of medications, including narcotics," said an RNC release sent Monday.

A stolen backhoe was used to get into the pharmacy at the Dominion store on Blackmarsh Road. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Back in 2008, two men were accused of using a backhoe to smash their way into a gas station on the Trans-Canada Highway just outside St. John's. The charges were eventually dropped.

Backhoe operation takes knowledge

Not everyone can jump in a backhoe and drive away, said Jones. They start with a key, just like a car, he said, but it's not always clear where the key needs to go.

There are also switches which need to be flicked on or off in order for the keyed ignition to work.

"If certain buttons are not in the proper position, you can't start it," he said. "If you didn't have [that] knowledge you wouldn't know what one button to the other did, really."

Even if the ignition and the button configuration is all sorted, Jones said operating a running backhoe — or, say, using the bucket to smash in a pharmacy window — takes some finesse.

"If you were using the bucket, you gotta know how to operate the booms," he said. "If you were using the rear bucket, you have to know to unlock it. It's not as straightforward as you might think."

As for the drive from Elizabeth Avenue to Blackmarsh Road, that likely wouldn't be be smooth sailing either, Jones said.

"[Driving a backhoe] is slow, it's rougher than your car. Everything takes a little more time."

Lots of backhoes out there

Jones says the backhoe business has been booming this year and there are a lot of rented rigs on the road.

He said if people are worried about their backhoe being driven away for a robbery, all they need to do is make sure the security system is on.

"Just activating the security systems … you just gotta ask for it to be turned on, and set up with the pass codes you want and the security you want in it. And don't leave keys in it."

With files from Zach Goudie