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September 18, 2013

Stolen equipment recovered for Operation Injured Soldiers

By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer

SOUTHFIELD — No one knows how it got there or why it ended up in Southfield, but the important thing is that it’s been returned.

After missing for several weeks, the trailer and off-roading vehicle mysteriously stolen from the South Lyon nonprofit Operation Injured Soldiers was given back to the organization, which provides veterans with opportunities to enjoy the same types of hobbies and activities they did before deployment.

The equipment was found abandoned in a Southfield apartment complex, and fortunately was still in good enough condition to serve the heroes who depend on it.

This particular equipment — a 2013 Polaris Ranger valued at $14,000 and a 7-by-12-by-9-foot trailer valued at $4,000 — is used to transport the soldiers during hunting and fishing trips, according to Operation Injured Soldiers Treasurer Pam Bijansky.

To be part of their program, soldiers must be 30 percent or more disabled or have seen combat, she said, and many are amputees who cannot otherwise get back into the woods.

She explained that both pieces are new and a big asset to the group.

“We had raised the money for three years or so just to purchase this last October,” she said about the six-seater used for off-roading. “It had 42 miles on it and had only been used on two different hunts, and then it got stolen. And it was inside a trailer just purchased two months prior.”

It went missing from the Operation Injured Soldiers office at 22645 Pontiac Trail while they were closed over the Fourth of July weekend. They noticed that the equipment, which was locked up but not yet wrapped in their logo, was missing when they returned to the office Aug. 5.

“We couldn’t believe it. Nothing like this has happened before. We are a volunteer organization,” Bijansky said. “We did hit the news media really hard after it happened, just saying, ‘Please, bring it back. We need it for our guys.’”

According to Lt. Nick Loussia of the Southfield Police Department, Southfield came into play when the station received a call shortly after 2 p.m. Sept. 3 from a manager of an apartment complex in the 29000 block of Wellington Road.

The manager reported that a black, unmarked trailer had been parked in the complex since Aug. 17 and seemed suspicious.

“We received a call from the apartment manager stating that this trailer was in their parking lot and had been there for some time,” Loussia said. “He didn’t think it belonged, so he wanted us to investigate it.”

Responding officers determined it was stolen property from South Lyon by tracing the license plate number, he added. Southfield police contacted the authorities there, who connected it to the police report filed by Operation Injured Soldiers leaders.

Bijansky said the Southfield authorities were great to work with and that the organization was thrilled to have it back.

“Trailers that are plain like that are a hot commodity,” she said, adding that the lock on the trailer had been broken off, causing dents in the door, and that it looked as if the trailer had come off the hitch while being towed away from their location. The ranger inside was in good condition still, though the key had been removed, she explained.

In the end, the situation worked out because now Operation Injured Soldiers has an additional ranger to use: one that had already been replaced by the insurance company and their recovered one, which they bought back from the insurance company, Bijansky added.

“Now we have two, but being a volunteer organization, that one means way more to use than the brand-new one; we worked hard for it as a group.”

Since the incident transpired, the organization was also able to move into another, more secure, grant-funded location in South Lyon, where their equipment will be locked up and out of sight.

Operation Injured Soldiers is a nationwide, volunteer-run organization. The Michigan group, which is home to more than 600 of the 1,000 nationwide members, raises funds for activities and hosts regular events around metro Detroit.

For more information about Operation Injured Soldiers, visit www.injuredsoldiers.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jessica Strachan at jstrachan@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1108.