Eight school buses were stolen from the Far South Side overnight and driven to a salvage yard, where they were cut apart and shredded into a two-story pile of scrap, police said.
The name of the Sunrise bus company could be seen among the shards of metal at SRV Metal Scrapper, 3405 S. Lawndale Avenue, police said. Four people were taken into custody, including the owner of the company.
The 40-foot-long buses, capable of seating 75 people, were stolen sometime overnight from the bus company's yard in the 10000 block of South Torrence Avenue and were not discovered missing until this morning, police said.
The buses were all equipped with GPS tracking devices, and police were able to track "their entire movement" to the scrap yard on the West Side, police said.
When officers arrived, several people who apparently worked in the scrap yard ran into a building, police said. Officers initially apprehended one person and later took two others into custody. The owner was arrested in the afternoon.
"There was a pile of shredded school buses about two-stories high," one police official said. Some pieces were large enough that police could see the "Sunrise bus logo," the official said.
Engines and transmissions from the buses had already been cut in half, and the seats tossed in a "big pile of scrap."
Eugene Roy, commander of the police Central Investigations Unit, said the metal will be impounded as evidence. "It was unusual to see such a large-scale theft," he said.
An employee said the bus yard had been closed around 7 p.m. Thursday. When workers arrived at 5 a.m. today, they discovered a gate open and a snapped lock. Police arrived at the scrap yard around 6 a.m.
Greg Bonnett, president and co-owner of Sunrise, said he was awakened this morning with a call from a worker that the buses had been stolen.
When the GPS signals were tracked down to the West Side, Bonnett said he expected to find 8 buses parked there. "We expected to come in and see our buses, not a mound of scrap.
"In 40 years I have never heard of anything like this," said Bonnett, 60.
Bonnett estimated his loss at a quarter of a million dollars. Four of the buses were equipped for special education students, including wheelchair lifts, he said. Four 2009 models, three were 2004 and one was a 2003.
As scrap, the buses would have been worth anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500 each.
"I don't know why they would do it," said Joe Pickard, chief economist for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in Washington, D.C. "It seems like a lot of effort for not a big return. What would motivate an individual, (they're) school buses."
Scrap prices for iron and steel are relatively low right now. They bring about 18 cents per pound compared to about $3.50 per pound for copper and about 90 cents per pound for aluminum, Pickard said.
Even with the buses weighing 17,000 to 20,000 pounds, much of that would be from wiring, foam, rubber and materials from the seats, Pickard said.
But Gary Bush, who was a police officer for 32 years before he began keeping track of thefts for the institute, said thieves will take whatever they can. "Anything that can be stolen, has been stolen," he said. "Literally anything of any value is a potential target."
Sunrise has about 260 buses, and the company was able to get buses to its schools. "No Sunrise kids missed school," Bonnett said. "Equipment is equipment. It's easy to replace."
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