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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Joy Rider Targets Heavy Equipment : Crime: Several construction sites have been vandalized. Workers say one break-in nearly caused an oil spill.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A trespasser in tennis shoes has been taking heavy equipment for joy rides at local construction sites but there are no smiles from workers, who say that at least one break-in nearly caused a severe oil spill.

The incidents have occurred over the past few weeks at several Santa Clarita Valley construction sites, according to a report by Deputy Scott Gibson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Santa Clarita Valley Station.

The damage from some of the joy rides has been relatively minor. Two carob trees worth $3,050 were damaged by one of two cranes driven last week around a Newhall Land & Farming Co. field west of the intersection of the Old Road and Valencia Boulevard.

But another incident in the same field had the potential to cause more serious damage. A backhoe was driven into a canyon where an 8-foot hole was dug near a large oil pipeline, authorities said.

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“The hole which they dug was only about 20 feet away from the Mobil Oil pipeline which, if they would have ruptured, would have caused a catastrophic oil spill,” Gibson said.

In both incidents, the heavy equipment was returned, Gibson said. The suspect or suspects apparently hot-wired the cranes and the backhoe or used a hidden key to start them.

Steve Stats, co-owner of Stats Construction, told deputies that matching tennis shoe prints were found around heavy equipment kept in the field after both incidents.

Similar shoe prints have been found near equipment operated illegally at other sites, authorities said.

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