DECEMBER 23, 2010 ISSUE

How the Grinch Stole Christmas Trees

Theft of Christmas Trees a Common Crime

The theft of 657 Christmas trees in Newland in late November was not unusual, Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye said.

“Christmas tree thefts have always been a problem here,” Frye noted.

On November 28, a trailer loaded with 675 Christmas trees on pallets from Christmas Greens in Newland went missing from a loading dock lot on Millers Gap Highway. On December 4, the Avery County Sheriff’s Office received information from local tree growers that suspicious trees were being sold on a vacant gas station lot in Lawrenceville, Ga., near Atlanta. The trees drew the attention of local growers because most farmers do not ship Christmas trees on pallets. ID numbers on the pallets were linked to Christmas Greens, which is a major wholesaler of trees to chains such as Lowes Home Improvement and Home Depot, Frye said.

The Lawrenceville Police Department, working in conjunction with the Avery County Sheriff’s Office, arrested Tommy Thompson, 57, of Lenoir and Daniel Yeager, 39, of Hampton, Tenn. in Georgia. Thompson has since been released on bond, and currently there are outstanding warrants in North Carolina for both men on felony charges of larceny of the trailer and the trees, Frye said.

Two Avery County detectives and one deputy retrieved the remaining stolen trees and confiscated the truck allegedly used to steal the trailer on December 8. About 400 remaining trees were returned to the owner.

Frye said his office conducts extra patrols and works to secure loading areas for Christmas trees and the tree fields themselves during the period before Thanksgiving through Christmas.

“[Our] advice to all growers is to make sure you have some sort of unique tag or identification system on your trees,” Frye said. “That helps tremendously.”

Jennifer Greene, executive director of the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association based in Boone, said that unfortunately reports of stolen trees and equipment from Christmas tree farms occur a few times each year.

It’s common for Christmas tree growers who sell trees wholesale—to be shipped and sold at other locations—to have trees loaded on a trailer at a farm and ready to be transported, Greene said.

Christmas trees can be stolen directly from the farm, too. Earlier this month, The Carroll News in Carroll County, Va., north of Mount Airy, reported that 57 Christmas trees marked for sale were cut down and stolen by thieves.

The association recommends engraving or labeling equipment with unique ID numbers or warning stickers that cannot be easily removed. Secure farms with gates and fences, and don’t leave trees or equipment in remote areas—store them in well-lit, secured locations. Trailers can be painted a distinctive color with the farm’s logo included, and distinctive tags can be attached to trees.

“[These measures] can still be changed, but it creates more work for a thief,” Greene said.