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Senseless rash of thefts target parks

Officials say the damage will cost $16,000 to fix

Disappointment doesn't begin to describe how park staff members from Fairview to Hood River felt after learning that fee collection machines had been broken into, an official said Tuesday, April 3.

Parks run by the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon State Parks and Recreation and Metro were all hit in the rash of early morning break-ins. Sites in both Oregon and Washington were targeted.

'It's just sickening,' said Mark Stevenson, a manager with Oregon State Parks and Recreation. 'The thieves never get away with much money. It's senseless.'

The crime spree began around 2 a.m. Monday, March 26, when someone used a cutting torch to access machines at Rooster Rock and Benson state parks. The culprit then took 'quarter hoppers' and bill-collecting apparatus, collecting about $150 from both machines.

But replacing the machines, which accept cash, coins and credit cards, cost around $16,000, says a Multnomah County Sheriff's Office press release.

The thieves are 'not going to get a lot of money,' Stevenson said. 'They're doing all this damage for nothing.'

Money is removed twice a day from the machines, he said, noting that signs are posted stating just that. Now, the department is considering installing surveillance cameras.

The thieves struck again, around the same time, Saturday, March 31. The Rooster Rock and Benson sites were hit again, as well as the machine at Dabney State Park. The thieves got away with $124 from Dabney and an unknown amount from the other two machines.

Finally, Fairview police are investigating a similar crime at the Metro-run Blue Lake Park. The ticket machine there was broken into Friday, March 30.

About $1,000 in cash and $500 in parts were stolen; the repair is estimated to cost $750. The machine's lock was apparently drilled open, although a key was found in the front of the apparatus. Some missing parts found in a field across the street were sent to the Oregon Crime Lab for fingerprinting.

Stevenson said police and park officials are hoping the public can help by keeping an eye out for suspicious people at park sites.

Anyone with information on the crimes is asked to call the sheriff's office tips hotline at 503-261-2847.