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Originally published Sunday, April 24, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Theft victims line up for chance to get goods back

Monroe the underside of country living was on display yesterday morning at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds here. By 9:30 a.m., more than 150 people...

Seattle Times staff reporter

MONROE The underside of country living was on display yesterday morning at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds here.

By 9:30 a.m., more than 150 people had lined up by the giant Building 400 to see whether items stolen from them were among those recovered by the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office and arrayed for identification.

John Gibson, who's in customer service for a cellular-phone company, and his wife, Susan Gibson, an accountant, moved from Seattle to unincorporated Snohomish County a year and half ago, after their Seattle home was broken into.

They bought a three-bedroom home on 1 ¼ acres near Woodinville because "you're not looking into everybody else's back yard" and because that sort of crime "was less likely to happen" — or so they thought.

Since then, they've been hit twice. They woke up one morning to find the stereo ripped out of their sport-utility vehicle, and last summer a woodworking saw was taken from their greenhouse.

After an hour's wait yesterday, they didn't find any of their items among the 700 or so stolen goods on display.

It was the same story for most of those who patiently waited in line, who had been told to bring the police report they'd filled out when they were burglarized.

The unusual event — Seattle police, for example, have never done something like this — is the aftermath of a March 3 raid on a rural Sultan rental property, said Snohomish County sheriff's Detective Ryan Gausman.

Originally, the county cops and Sultan police believed the site was an illegal wrecking yard. "It looked like a junkyard," said Gausman.

When more than 40 county, Sultan and State Patrol officers raided the acreage, they found 700 suspected stolen items, mostly tools and construction equipment, along with 22 guns, half a dozen stolen cars that were being disassembled to sell for parts, and 8 ounces of methamphetamine worth about $2,100.

It was the largest stolen-property case in east Snohomish County, and now the officers hoped to return the goods to their rightful owners.

Gausman said a man in his 40s has been charged with possession of stolen property and trafficking in stolen property, and is out on bail, with possible additional charges pending. He said the case still is under investigation.

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Gausman, 51, went to Mountlake Terrace High School and remembered the rural areas of Snohomish County decades ago. "Mill Creek was nothing. It was woods," he said. "Monroe was an outpost."

With population growth, he said, country life changed, with methamphetamine being a major cause of crime.

"They live on the fringes of the general population, and they're addicted to methamphetamine. They're unemployed, homeless. If you look at five years of their booking pictures," he said, talking about the mug shots of those jailed in methamphetamine-connected cases, "it's like they've aged 20 years, skinny, wrinkled, with bad teeth."

The line of people hoping to find items that had been stolen from them slowly moved forward.

On New Year's Eve of 2002, a Snohomish-area couple, Shara Peterson, 51, a bookkeeper, and her husband, Rick Peterson, 58, an auto-parts salesman, came home from work to find their home on a 5-acre tract burglarized. They itemized 31 items that had been stolen, from a $14.69 pair of ear warmers to a $494.16 camera.

"They even took two cases of pop," said Shara Peterson in disbelief.

Now, they said, when taking a trip away from their home, they make sure to also pack their laptop, checks, watches.

"It used to be that way," Rick Peterson said about the days when you could leave your country home unlocked. "Not anymore."

A number of those in line hoped to find their possessions because they hadn't reported the theft to their insurance companies, either fearing their rates would be raised or because their deductible was higher than the loss.

Rod Kirkwood of Redmond, a mechanical contractor whose firm has 75 trucks, had heard about yesterday's event on the news, and hoped to find at least some of the $20,000 in tools stolen when his trucks were smashed into at least half a dozen times.

He didn't report the thefts to his insurance company because now the deductible for contractors is $25,000 per incident. He didn't find any of the tools.

"I've been in this business for 35 years. The crime rate has just been going up. It's the cost of doing business," he said. "It's too bad. It's like fuel, it just keeps climbing up."

By yesterday afternoon, when the crowds had dwindled, nearly 60 of the 700 stolen items had been identified and returned to their rightful owners. The rest are going into storage and eventually might be auctioned.

An elderly couple from Seattle was among those leaving, not finding anything that had been stolen from their summer cabin near Granite Falls.

"They took literally everything we had, all the dishes. They ate peanuts we had in a jar. At least they had the decency to put the shells back in," said the woman.

They didn't want their names printed. They were afraid, they said.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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