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Search continues for Hettinger drug thief

More than a month has passed since at least one narcotics-seeker caused more than $3,000 in damage while breaking into a Hettinger ambulance garage, but authorities still do not have a suspect, they said Tuesday.

Adams County Sheriff Travis Collins said it took about 20 minutes for the thief to smash in a heavy door, sift through three ambulances and locate a laundry list of drugs at the West River Ambulance Garage.

"We did what we could as far as investigation-wise in gathering evidence left around the scene," Collins said, "but we haven't had any calls."

There is a $2,500 reward for anyone with information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the break-in, which occurred Jan. 15. Ambulance personnel are left with more questions than answers as to why someone would go to such lengths for drugs.

"We don't have much for narcotics in our ambulances," said Jim Long, administrator and CEO of West River Health Services in Hettinger. "So even between three ambulances, (the thieves) might have gotten $40 worth of narcotics."

Long added that he is baffled anyone would vandalize a facility that is used to help people.

"It's not something we expected," he said.

While Collins said the crime suggests one person was involved, Long believes up to three people could have been involved.

"One person busting down that back door, I don't think one person could have done it," Long said. "It was a solid steel door, and they didn't use a car."

Since the incident occurred, Collins said ambulance personnel added a stronger back door and put up surveillance cameras in the garage. Other area businesses have not hesitated to make sure security is up to par.

"We're aware that that type of crime can happen here, and so we beefed up our security and are more aware of our surroundings and what's going on," said Gary Dewhirst, pharmacy manager at Thrifty White Drug in Hettinger.

Dewhirst reminded his employees to be extra careful when leaving and entering the store, adding that no one is ever too old for the buddy system.

"If they're in here late, they have a partner with them," he said.

Dewhirst said the store has not had a break-in since he arrived in 1979, and he sees the ambulance garage theft as strange for the area, which is has been quiet up until this year.

"It's something that usually doesn't happen, so it's kind of a surprise, and not a pleasant one," he said.

Collins said other area businesses are also concerned about the theft, and are willing to take extra steps to find those responsible.

"There was talk between some of the other Chamber members ... that they would be willing to add more money to the reward process," he said.

Since the beginning of January, Collins said there have been three to four other attempted break-ins in Hettinger, some of which he believes may also be drug-related.

Collins reminds Hettinger residents not to hesitate to report suspicious activity. Anyone with information related to the ambulance garage break-in is asked to call 701-567-2530.

"I think (the break-in) has heightened awareness of everyone that this can happen, even in a small community," Collins said.