News Trucks Burglarized in Jersey Corridor

At least three newsgathering trucks have been burglarized within a 20-mile stretch of New Jersey over the last two months. More may have been hit in the same area between Elizabeth and Rutherford, N.J.

Trucks belonging to WABC-TV, Sure Shot and SkyWire Uplink were hit--the last one most recently. Jay Silvio is the sole proprietor of SkyWire in Glen Allen, Va. He is a one-truck operator. His 12-year-old BAF was broken into at the Four Points Sheraton in Elizabeth.

“I’ve never been broken into before. That truck has stayed overnight, unguarded, in really stupid areas of the country,” Silvio said. “We’ve been in areas where there was looting. I was down in the hurricanes in Louisiana and Texas, and nobody touched the truck.”

Silvio said he reached the hotel around 10 p.m., Feb. 3.

“The valet said, ‘look, you’ve got to pull around back,’ which is normal. I parked right underneath the light, locked the truck and got my roll-off stuff.”

His Manhattan call wasn’t until mid-afternoon the following day, so Silvio didn’t leave the hotel until around noon.

“I walked around the corner and first thing I saw was my crew door ajar,” he said. “The lock mechanism was gone… ripped from the truck.”

It was then that Jay Silvio leaned into the bushes and vomited.

“I’ve been through two wives and two girlfriends,” he said. “This truck and I get along.”

He took digital photos while waiting an hour for the Elizabeth Police Department to respond. The thieves broke into the cab as well as the work area of the truck. Silvio’s two-way radios and his XM receiver were left intact. His attaché, containing satellite transponder information, was taken.

“They also grabbed my traveling humidor,” he said.

Silvio said the inside of the truck was “trashed,” but only two Tandberg Television encoders, one of two receivers and a variable phase combiner was taken.

“I had colored video monitors sitting on the floor of the truck. I had portable DVD players, tool bags, IFBs and camera equipment,” none of which was touched, Silvio said.

Instead, the encoders were carefully removed with a screwdriver, which was left on the console. They ripped out the transmitter and the VPC.

“Nobody saw anything,” Silvio said. He estimated the damages at $150,000, “probably more.”

Silvio said he was working with the Elizabeth, N.J. Police Department in the investigation, though the department was unable to confirm. Five reporter queries to the department yielded little information. Three calls to the office of Chief Ronald Simon were neither answered nor routed to voicemail. A fourth was dropped in a transfer; the fifth was passed off to a secretary named “Betty,” who, after a 20-minute hold, said she would track down the information and call back with it. No further communications arrived by press time.

Denny Kunce, president of Sure Shot in Youngstown, Ohio, said one of his SNG trucks got hit Dec. 3 at a Holiday Inn in Newark.

“They just ripped [it] apart,” he said. “They took my analog upconverters.”

Unlike Silvio, who interpreted some deliberation on the part of the thieves who hit his truck, Kunce said the Sure Shot culprits “didn’t know what they were doing. They tried to rip out the amplifiers. Those weigh 150 pounds. They weren’t going to get very far with those.”

“I wouldn’t read any more into it--that somebody actually knows what this gear is. Whoever it is has found somebody to buy this stuff,” he said.

There were no cameras on the Sure Shot truck, because it happened to be one of the units the company uses primarily for backhaul, but a PVW2800 tape deck was also taken.

“What are they going to do with it?” Kunce said. “It’s not even a digital machine.”

The only thing taken from the cab--the driver’s clothes.

Kunce said these types of break-ins are rare.

“I’ve been in business 25 years, and this is maybe the second time this has ever happened,” he said.

An executive at WABC-TV, the ABC affiliate in New York, said one of that station’s news vans was “burglarized overnight in a parking lot at our New Jersey bureau,” in Rutherford last month. He did not indicate what was stolen, though a network source said no encoders were taken.

Other similar burglaries may have taken place in the same area of the last six months, according to a source not associated with any of the companies hit. This individual, who correctly identified the SkyWire, Sure Shot and WABC burglaries, also named three other firms that had similar break-ins. One said the report was untrue; a second said he had “no knowledge of that,” and the third declined to talk.

The same source said the FBI was investigating the break-ins based on the nature of the equipment and information stolen. Sean Quinn, media coordinator for the Newark Division of the FBI was unable to confirm such an investigation, though he had sent out inquiries.

“It could be a state, local or Philly case,” said Quinn, who hadn’t provided further information by press time.

In the meantime, Jay Silvio is waiting for his old friend to be repaired.

“I know it sounds crazy, by my first concern was for my clients. I’ve been making phone calls and making sure that the jobs that I have on the books in the coming weeks are covered,” he said. “I’ve probably lost about $40,000 worth of business, and for a small guy like me, that’s a big chunk.”

Silvio said he’d probably have to send his truck to Illinois to have the radio frequency specs retuned.

“I’m operating in the blind as far as timeline,” he said.