Identifying Scars an Aid in Reclaiming Stolen Tools

Times Staff Writer

The colored part of the power drill was faded, the handle was worn and scuffed, and the drill chuck revolved eccentrically.

For Petar Janovic, that gave it the face of an old friend.

“I’m just glad I found it,” Janovic, 37, of Reseda said as he carried the drill and several other tools, which had been stolen from him in December, out of a Burbank Police Department impound yard. “I know what my tools look like.”

Janovic, a building contractor, was one of many builders who attempted to identify and claim their pipe wrenches, drills and power sanders from among dozens displayed at an evidence lineup of stolen equipment Saturday.


The tools, along with the contractors’ trucks, were stolen from department store parking lots around the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys during the last several months by an auto theft ring, police said.

The ring was broken up in January when police raided an Eagle Rock home and found an estimated $200,000 worth of stolen tools and electronic equipment, investigators said. Melvin H. Qualls, 50, was arrested Jan. 13 on 11 counts of receiving stolen property and is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 24 in Superior Court, Sgt. Van Miller said.

It was difficult for the victims, who went to the impound yard clutching their police reports, to prove that a wrench is not a wrench is not a wrench.

“Fortunately, many of the victims had serial numbers and very accurate descriptions of their tools,” Miller said. “But, for the others, they have to be able to describe or show some kind of identifying mark in order to prove the tool was theirs.”


Janovic, who ran a drill and saw that its motion was slightly off center, was one of the lucky ones.

“I remember dropping this, and that’s why it works like this,” Janovic said.

Kenneth Compton, 43, whose truck was stolen in Burbank in December, said he was able to find many of his tools by red or brown paint he put on them.

Others saw tools they were sure belonged to them, but they could not positively identify them.

“I saw so many things that looked like mine, but there was nothing I could do but leave them there,” said Alfred Lattuga, 43, of Temple City, who lost $4,000 worth of tools in a robbery two months ago. “All these tools look alike. I got ripped off, but I can’t rip anyone else off.

“When you buy tools, you use them. You don’t think about identifying them.”

Ronald Bateman, 49, sifted in frustration through a tool box filled with small wrenches.

“This is really crazy,” he said. “Police just put all the smaller tools in together. There’s just no way to tell which one is yours.”