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THE INVESTIGATORS: Thieves steal $45k worth of catalytic converters from EBR school buses

Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 5:37 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 15, 2021 at 1:53 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Thieves are on the hunt, stealing catalytic converters from underneath East Baton Rouge school buses. The thefts are piling up, costing the school system, and taxpayers, around $45,000 within the last few weeks.

Margaret Fort has been driving buses for close to 20 years and when she straps in to start her route each day, she expects her bus to crank up with no problem but recently, that is not the case.

”You hear a loud noise and I didn’t know what it was and come to find out my catalytic converter had been taken off the bus,” said Fort.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the bus driver if she has ever had to deal with something like this.

“No,” said Fort. “Absolutely not.”

Thieves are on the prowl, hitting up capital area school buses for vital parts. The precious platinum inside the catalytic converters is getting swiped from underneath the buses then sold on the street for cold hard cash. Criminals are taking advantage of the big yellow targets to make their move in the middle of the night. When the 9News Investigators reached out to the EBR Schools Transportation Office last week, a representative said someone had jacked parts from under 11 buses. That changed over the weekend when thieves swiped four more of the parts. As of right now, 15 catalytic converters have been snatched from EBR school buses in the last several weeks. At $3,000 a piece, the crime has set the district and taxpayers back about $45,000.

”It’s very expensive for them,” said Fort. “I’d appreciate if they’d leave us alone and if you need a job, come on over to the mechanic shop because it seems like you know what you’re doing.”

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The driver is trying to laugh it off but she says her bus is hot. It’s been hit at least four separate times, including over the weekend.

“It’s an ongoing thing. We can’t hide from them because once they see our buses that’s it,” said Fort.

Fort has tried to mix things up to throw the thieves off by parking the bus in different spots around the city but each time she says whoever’s behind it has found a way. The part has been nabbed off her bus on Flannery Road, Ardenwood Drive, Winbourne Avenue and even at the EBR bus facility on Sherwood Forest Drive. “I don’t know what to do now because everywhere I’ve parked, they got me,” said Fort.

“I don’t know why they like my bus but they get me.”BRPD Sgt. Ljean McKneely says they have been flooded with reports from the school system and they’re doing whatever they can to catch those responsible.

“We are taking action. We are making movement in an attempt to catch these guys,” said McKneely. “Oh we’re actively looking for you and eventually you’re going to get caught.”

Once the thieves make off with the part, it’s hard to track and after it’s sold on the street, McKneely says it’s all but impossible to find after the platinum is stripped out of it.

”Our investigators are out actively reaching out to the individuals and the vendors that they’re going to in an attempt to find out who they’re actually getting those parts from,” said McKneely.

At this point, Fort says it’s ridiculous for someone to take advantage of her livelihood to try and make a quick buck.

”I just wish they’d stop you know.. it’s too much,” said Fort.

WAFB did reach out to the EBR school system.

On behalf of Mr. James Bell:

The theft of catalytic converters is a serious issue that has created a twofold impact on our district. Our primary concern is the safe transportation of students and these services are being disrupted because of thefts. Due to the nature of the equipment being stolen, bus operators often are unaware of the damage to the buses until it’s time to pick up students, which causes disruptions in transportation services. The other impact is monetary as each catalytic converter averages $3,000 each. The EBR Transportation Department continues to work diligently to provide timely coverage for our students and families in light of these challenges along with a nationwide shortage of drivers.

The 9News Investigators also checked with other area school systems. Representatives with Livingston Parish said they have not had any catalytic converter thefts on their buses and leaders in Ascension say they have had parts stolen from three buses.

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