While everyone else is usually sleeping, a Red Deer man stays awake and keeps watch on his neighbourhood and on city streets after his truck was stolen twice in the past three months.
Brandon Free is a husband, a father and a contractor. The small business owner relies on his truck and trailer to take on jobs around Red Deer. His 2004 Ford F350 Super Duty pickup was stolen from his Highland Green home Monday for the second time, after a prior incident in September.
“I actually bought The Club, and that was installed on the steering wheel a couple days before, and I was out working on the truck at 4:30 in the morning,” he said, adding the vehicle was stolen a couple of hours later – around 6 a.m.
Sept. 11, the same black truck, along with his trailer and tools and materials, such as plywood, aluminum coils, door handles and specialty screws and bolts valued at around $60,000, were stolen.
Since the September incident, Free has been keeping watch in his neighbourhood, as well as driving the family’s minivan to patrol the city’s streets. He claims he has seen culprits checking for unlocked cars when he’s up between midnight and 3:30 a.m.
“I stay up every single night … they drive around, two or three people in a vehicle, they test every car door…
“The guys drive around and one guy gets out, walks up to a parked car, tries the handle. If it’s locked, he moves on. If it’s open, he takes as much as he can and leaves.”
When he sees suspicious activity, Free calls the RCMP. He said he has called the police many times since the September incident.
“There’s been 20 instances I’ve called the RCMP… and I have intervened in about a hundred.”
Red Deer RCMP Staff Sgt. Rob Marsollier commends the resident’s efforts, but he asks the public to be cautious when keeping their eyes out for mischief and to never intervene.
Marsollier said the Ford F350 trucks “are the easiest ones to steal.”
“It’s probably the most stolen vehicle in Alberta,” said Marsollier. He advises owners to install secondary anti-theft devices such as a kill switch to deter criminals.
“They can drive this vehicle away in less than 30 seconds.” Marsollier said.
Free said he doesn’t park the truck in the garage because it doesn’t fit.
The September incident has been hard on Free and his family – his wife and his children, who are age two and four.
Although the RCMP were able to recover his truck and trailer after the first incident, neither were in driving condition and the business owner did not have theft coverage for either.
Insurance money for the tools came in – about $40,000 – but Free, the owner of Alberta Home Renovation Experts, had to be frugal.
“I had to use part of my insurance claim money from my tools to repair the truck and trailer.
“I didn’t have the means to do any work. I couldn’t drive the truck, it took forever to get an ignition,” he said, referring to the September theft.
“It’s stressful. Every day, I look at losing my house. I have to use money that is supposed to replace the tools in order to pay house bills because I can’t go out and make money.”
It took about two months for the born-and-raised Red Deerian to get everything back on track after the first theft. He secured more jobs, only to have his truck taken again.
“My truck was stolen (again) the day before I was supposed to start the first contract,” he said, explaining he was supposed to start the job Tuesday, but the truck was stolen Monday morning.
The recent incident means the contractor is left with no income once again.
“I’m going on three months with no income.
“It would be one thing to lose one truck one time, but twice, and just after I get back to work, is enough. You can only promise the bank you will get the money so many times before they eventually go ‘we need our money or you’re out of your house.’”
With no income, the 33-year-old has been using part of the insurance money to support his family.
“Every tool I don’t buy is another job I can’t do, so when I do get my truck and trailer back, and I have half as many tools as when I started. That’s half as many jobs I can accept. I can’t take specialty jobs because I no longer possess those tools, so I’ve gone from being an all-around contractor to being a handyman that just does the side jobs…”
Marsollier said he talked to Free when the crimes were reported and he sympathizes with him.
“He’s at his wits’ end due to loss of vehicle, and property, and loss of work, and we totally understand it’s a difficult thing.”