Brit Ellerman stopped in Fort Lupton's First Street Safeway with his girlfriend March 5 just to grab some things for lunch. They were in the store for about eight minutes, he said.
"When we walked out, there was an odd car with a guy sitting in it; as we got closer to my truck he sped off," Ellerman said.
He didn't think much of it at the time, but it would end up costing him thousands of dollars – despite taking his personal security seriously, with cameras around his house and trackers in his trucks.
"I have an axe to grind because it's a huge problem in Colorado," Ellerman said. "It bothers me that for other people who own a car worth $4,000 or less there is almost no incentive for the police to find it because they figure insurance will cover it. We don't have support from the government they let those people go and then just charge them with a misdemeanor."
Ellerman and his girlfriend didn't notice anything amiss until they'd left the supermarket parking lot. She realized her makeup bag was missing, so they returned to the parking lot to check if the bag was accidentally fallen out.
More than makeup
It was while they were looking for it that they realized some things were shuffled out of place and others were just gone. For example, Ellerman said they keep a box of wipes in the truck's console. The box had been pulled out on the seat, but neither of them remembered pulling it out.
"I opened the glove box and all of the registration paperwork was gone from the vehicle. I realized the keys to my truck that is parked at our ranch and garage openers were stolen. It was not good they had our address," Ellerman said.
They called the police there and filed a report on the spot, giving the police the description of the suspicious car that sped off.
It wasn't until they got home after filing the report that they discovered that the thieves had gone straight to their ranch and had stolen his other truck, a white 2022 Dodge F-350 and their bright orange Sunshine Classic two-horse Bloomer trailer. – In all, a loss of $200,000, he estimates.
Ellerman said his family has been in the community for over 40 years and bought and sold real estate in Fort Lupton. He grew up in Fort Lupton, went to school here, went to college in Wyoming and lived in Texas for a little while. But Fort Lupton has been his primary residence. He also helped coach basketball and does business in Fort Lupton.
He's seen it change but said his area is mostly rural and feels safe.
"A lot of us have cameras, so you can see when the vehicle and trailer leaves," Ellerman said. "My area was very rural and now it has grown we are very protected," Ellerman said.
His friends and a neighbor were outside riding horses during the theft. His other neighbor was about 100 yards from his barn, grilling on their porch. Ellerman said he has a huge dog that wasn't out then. The thieves seemed to know just how to get through the gate, where to go, and how to get out.
"It was premeditated or calculated. We constantly have neighbors coming over, we have events, people come and work for me that are in and out of here as well as my family and friends," Ellerman said.
Even the tracking devices didn't help. Ellerman said the thieves drove about a mile from his house and parked behind an oil well pad site along a dead end. There, they removed the tracking devices and moved on. A camera at the oil well site, caught them doing that, he said.
"This tells me it's not their first time – it's a calculated type of ring or criminal organization, " he said.
He notes that not normally a crime-friendly neighborhood. The thieves were taking chances, he said.
"Everyone in the neighborhood is armed, permitted, and licensed," he said. "So, it was brazen."
Still, he figures the rewards outweigh the risk. They were that they're willing to steal $200,000 worth of vehicles and items in the middle of the day on a Sunday with neighbors outsides and cameras.
"When there is that type of crime that goes on, and nothing is done about it, because there are no consequences, it hurts businesses, lowers the values of properties, people's sense of safety, and hurts the whole community," Ellerman said. "This something that needs to be taken seriously, and something has to be done."
Trucks popular targets
The Weld County Sheriff's office said they are investigating Ellerman's case but have no updates. Sheriff Steve Reams said it's a prime example of how emboldened criminals have become.
"We hope the public can assist in this case, and please don't be afraid to report suspicious behaviors," Reams said.
According to Weld County Sheriff's data, some 2,282 vehicles were stolen in Weld County between Jan. 2022 and March 2023. The department does have an 82% recovery rate.
Trucks like Ellerman's are top targets for thieves. Pick-up trucks of various makes and models make up the top five kinds of vehicles stolen in Weld County, accounting for almost 300 of the vehicles reported stolen.
It's increasing a problem all over the county. Fort Lupton reported 110 vehicle thefts., according to Weld County data.
Reams suggests drivers follow the prevention tips from the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority to combat auto theft. He recommends they be sure to lock their doors, roll up windows and take their keys with them. Never leave them on your dashboard, seat, or center console.
Drivers should put their keys in a pocket or purse when exiting the vehicle and they should designate a place inside the home to keep their keys, such as in the kitchen or a mud room. Never leave keys in a vehicle, even in a locked garage, and make sure to turn off the engine when not in your car.
The garage should be securely locked with bright, motion-activated lights outside. He also recommended not leaving financial information, checkbooks, receipts, or other personal information from your car. Drivers should check their car's registration receipt and only keep the portion that does not list their home address in the vehicle.
Ellerman asks if you see the stolen truck and trailer, call the Weld County Sheriff's office at 970-356-4015 or Ellerman at 303-717-2836.
Weld County Sheriff's email to report tips: firstname.lastname@example.org.