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‘Master keys’ possible link to St. John's region backhoe break-ins

Employees of KP Harvey Construction and Sobeys on Kelsey Drive were busy doing repair work Monday morning after an early morning automatic teller machine heist at the supermarket in which a thief, or thieves, used a piece of heavy equipment to break through the front of the store and steal an ATM.
Employees of KP Harvey Construction and Sobeys on Kelsey Drive were busy doing repair work Monday morning after an early morning automatic teller machine heist at the supermarket in which a thief, or thieves, used a piece of heavy equipment to break through the front of the store and steal an ATM. - Joe Gibbons

Machine operator says anyone can buy the keys to heavy equipment, which could contribute to rash of thefts

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - A heavy machine operator is sounding the alarm about a “master key” that could be contributing to a rash of heavy equipment thefts in the capital city in recent months.

The man, who asked not to be identified, says master keys for heavy equipment are common and accessible to the public.

“If you’re buying anything Caterpillar, from dozers to loaders to backhoes, you can run up to Toromont on Kenmount Road and for $10 you can purchase this key. It’s known as the CAT key,” he said.

“Anybody can do it.”

Employees at Sobeys on Kelsey Drive were greeted with a large hole in the side of the building and a missing Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) on Monday morning.

On Sunday, a similar incident saw an ATM stolen from the TD Bank on Elizabeth Avenue in St. John’s.

Around the same time last year, two other incidents involving stolen heavy equipment took place: one at the Dominion store on Blackmarsh Road and another at the Lawtons on Topsail Road in Paradise.

“If you’re buying anything Caterpillar, from dozers to loaders to backhoes, you can run up to Toromont on Kenmount Road and for $10 you can purchase this key. It’s known as the CAT key. Anybody can do it."

Later Monday, police uncovered a damaged ATM near Camrose Drive in Paradise. Police say it’s too early to say for certain if the ATM was stolen from Sobeys on Kelsey Drive.

The man says while security measures on heavy equipment do exist — like a second key being needed to start a vehicle, or an identification system in others — the availability of the keys is unsettling.

“I have on my keychain a CAT key and a John Deere key,” he said.

“That key, I can take that out of one loader, go hop in another loader, then get out of that loader, sit in a John Deere loader, then go back to my excavator. It’s two keys.”


CAT 420F
CAT 420F

Tips for keeping heavy equipment secure

  • Keep accurate records.
  • Do background checks on all potential employees.
  • Keep a list of people authorized to enter/leave your worksite.
  • Keep a site’s perimeter fenced and equipped with well-secured gates.
  • Keep your site well-lit or with motion-sensitive lighting.
  • Make sure all keys are removed from equipment when not in use.
  • Keep a record of keys and a sign-out/sign-in sheet.
  • Install gauge protectors and panel locks on equipment, or install engine immobilizer systems.
  • Use GPS tracking on large equipment.
  • Contract a security guard service.

Source: Jim Organ, executive director, Heavy Civil Association of N.L.


A spokesperson for Toromont CAT did not reply to multiple requests for comment by deadline on Monday.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary could not get into details surrounding the incidents on Sunday and Monday, as investigations are ongoing. Const. James Cadigan says police are looking to the public for help.

“These break-ins are being actively investigated by our general investigations units and they are requesting any information from the public to assist,” he said.

Jim Organ, executive director of the Heavy Civil Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, sent a note to all members of the association on Monday to remind members of the importance of security for heavy equipment.

On top of concerns of large businesses that own the equipment, Organ says small contractors or anyone who happens to own heavy equipment needs to be vigilant to protect their property.

“I’m sure there’s hundreds of small backhoes around the province, people that aren’t members of my association or construction association … individual contractors with a backhoe,” he said.

“While we’re trying to get the security and safety message out to our members, I’m not sure how to get that message out to the individual contractors.”

Organ says he spoke with other representatives of other heavy civil associations in Atlantic Canada. He says the thefts in this province don’t appear to be happening elsewhere.

“Something that’s happened multiple times here in Newfoundland and Labrador, my counterparts across Atlantic Canada are saying, ‘Wow,’” he says.

“They haven’t heard of anything like that.”

The City of St. John’s has a large fleet of similar equipment, but with plenty of security measures in place, including 24-hour surveillance of any equipment left overnight by contractors.

“The city has a variety of measures in place at all city facilities to protect its assets. Due to security reasons these measures cannot be identified,” read a statement from city hall.

“For city construction projects, the security of site and equipment is the responsibility of the contractor.”

Twitter: @DavidMaherNL

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