by: Tom Regan Updated:
Thieves stole a tractor-trailer rig loaded with $2 million in pharmaceutical drugs and narcotics as it was parked and running outside a Bartow County truck stop early Tuesday morning.
Investigators described it as a carefully planned heist.
"A lot of times you hear of trucks taken off the grid, in situations like this, where narcotics get into the hands of individuals who can put them out on the streets." Bartow County sheriff’s investigator Jonathan White said.
White told Channel 2's Tom Regan that the truck driver left his rig unlocked, with the keys inside, at a Pilot Travel Center on Cassville-White Road around 5.30 a.m. Tuesday. The driver went in to use the restroom and returned to find his rig gone, White said.
Within a few minutes of the theft being reported, a tracking device on the trailer alerted the trucking company and police to its location.
Investigators say the thieves tried to throw police off their trail by switching out the truck cab that was pulling the trailer.
"Basically on this they had a truck on standby, to swap out that tractor and trailer with another one, so it would be concealed. And they used Velcro to over the license tag to conceal the plate and replace it with another one." said Investigator White.
Georgia State Patrol and Bartow County sheriff's deputies tracked the stolen rig to an exit off Interstate 75. In a slow-speed chase, they followed the rig into an industrial park where the thieves stopped the truck, jumped out of the passenger door, and ran into nearby woods.
Investigators recovered the drugs but said they are still looking those behind the heist, which they suspect was an inside job.
"These are targeted, where they can strike in this transport chain, and get the trucks easily," Bartow County Sheriff's Sgt. Jonathan Rogers said.
Rogers said it likely someone provided the thieves with information on what the truck was carrying. Other truckers said they take extra precautions when passing through the metro Atlanta area.
"Whenever I get near Atlanta, I always get an alert to watch my truck, my trailer, because Atlanta is known for getting thefts." truck driver Adam Orcutt said.
Another driver said he rarely loses sight of his truck.
"We're very cautious; very much watch our load anywhere we got. [We] don't leave them alone anywhere," truck driver Rick Rusher said.
Investigators said they are looking into the possibility that the thieves behind Wednesday’s scheme are part of a larger criminal network involved in truck theft.