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Maine family left scrambling after wood chipper used for business is stolen

MONTVILLE, Maine — After Eric Dayan and his family returned home from a camping trip last weekend, the Montville arborist discovered his 2,000-pound wood chipper had been stolen.

The theft of the $20,000 tool, which he purchased new three years ago and serves as an integral part of his business, has hit Dayan hard. He had left the bright-yellow wood chipper parked on his property on the dead-end dirt Twitchell Road.

“I’d never in a million years thought this would happen,” he said. “I was in shock for a while. I kept expecting it to be behind a bush, or for someone to have borrowed it.”

And in the days since, Dayan, 40, also learned the unwelcome news that although he thought it was fully insured, it wasn’t. That means that not only does he no longer have the wood chipper that transformed what used to be all-day tree clean up jobs into an hourlong task, but he still must pay a $354 monthly loan payment on the stolen machine until it is paid off.

“It’s harder to do every job without it,” said Dayan, who has four children including an 11-month old baby. “They took the food right out of my kids’ mouths … I got through 40 years believing in people. I’m sad to burst that bubble.”

The vanished wood chipper is among a recent flurry of tool thefts in Maine that make it much tougher for the victims to earn their living. They’re also not small items that could easily be slipped into a pocket or bag, like a wallet or jewelry. Instead, they are large, heavy pieces of equipment that likely require at least some effort — not to mention transportation —  to steal.

Other thefts reported this week include a custom-made meat smoker stolen from a Bangor business and a new, commercial-grade dump trailer that cost a contractor $11,000 when he bought it last month.  

“It’s taking away my livelihood,” said Matthew Jones of Portland-based Forest Street Carpentry, whose dump trailer disappeared from a job site on outer Union Street in Bangor. “It makes it hard for me to live and pay my rent when someone takes my tools.”

Lieutenant James Ellis of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office said that his department is still investigating the theft of a red log trailer stolen in December from behind the Freshie’s store in Orrington. It’s among several trailer theft cases in Penobscot County that remain unsolved. A number of the others have happened in Hermon.

“Whether they’re all connected or not, I can’t say,” Ellis said. “A lot of the thefts we see are related to getting money for the purchase of drugs. Things that are stolen, we don’t know why people do it, but they do have a reason.”

Whatever the reason is, the theft of tools can put crime victims in a precarious economic position.

Jones, who lives in Portland but is from the Bangor area, worked for a long time to save money to buy the dump trailer — a crucial tool for jobs where there is a lot of demolition debris.

He reported the theft to the police and hopes that it will resurface eventually. But it wasn’t insured, so for the moment he will need to either rent a trailer, figure out how to buy a new one or just use pickup trucks to carry smaller loads of debris away from the site.

“It’s hard, the amount of work and time it takes for me to have $11,000 sitting free and clear in my bank account,” he said. “To have it stolen is really, really frustrating. It’s absolutely harder without it.”

For Bethany Gregory, a chef working to transform the shuttered Six Mile Falls Store on Broadway in Bangor into a cafe, coffee bar and local foods market, the theft of her meat smoker was a shock. She moved from Cape Cod to Maine this year and has loved the warm welcome she has received from locals. But the disappearance of the smoker, which would cost $12,000 or more to replace, has been difficult to understand.

Gregory noticed it was gone on Tuesday.

“It’s mind-blowing to me. I’m still in disbelief,” she said Friday. “It’s like when people go into a car lot and siphon off their gas and take their catalytic converters.”

There has been a silver lining to the dark cloud of the robbery. A man from Ellsworth saw a segment about the theft on the news and decided to lend her one of his tow-behind smoker units until she could get back on her feet.

“He brought it yesterday,” she said. “It was super generous and kind.”  

Dayan is hoping for a silver lining of his own. He could use it. On Wednesday, he was on the phone with various insurers while his 15-year-old dog was dying.  

“I’m on the phone talking to all these financial institutions, and I’m trying to keep my dog calm and pat him,” he said.

He learned that the $2,000 insurance policy he was required to purchase three years ago when he took out the loan to buy the wood chipper from John Deere was canceled when he refinanced the loan through his local bank.  

Dayan, who reported the theft to local police, hasn’t given up on the idea that his wood chipper might somehow come back. He’s offering a reward of $500 if it comes back broken, but with the person’s name who took it, or $1,000 if it comes back working with no questions asked.

In the meantime, though, he’s just going to have to work a lot harder to do his job than he did before.

“It’s worth it. It makes my life easier,” he said of the wood chipper. “Now I’m relying on it. I don’t want to go back to the old way anymore.”

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