VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — This is a story of interstate crime and an Oregon law that makes it easy for crooks to get away by stealing from people in Washington.
KOIN 6 News first exposed the loophole in this law 7 years ago — and the loophole remains wide open.
The crime: Thieves steal a trailer from a person’s home in Washington, then sell it in Oregon where trailers under a certain weight don’t need to be titled or registered.
‘My trailer’s gone!’
Heath Getchell and his wife were home one night in early February 2023.
“Me and my wife were more than likely eating dinner in our kitchen. We have an island that we eat on and we’re probably right there just eating” when their trailer was stolen from their Vancouver driveway around 8:30 p.m.
A neighbor’s surveillance camera captured the theft. A white SUV drove past the house, then came back from a different direction a few minutes later. The SUV stops in the street. A person gets out and guides the SUV driver who backs up into Getchell’s driveway, hooks up the trailer and drove away before anyone noticed.
Getchell did have a lock on the trailer hitch. But it only took the thieves a couple minutes to hook it up and pull away.
But one thing he didn’t have was insurance. Getchell, a contractor, had his tools inside the trailer.
“I was out about $23,000. I mean, every tool that I owned was in that trailer,” he told KOIN 6 News.
He posted the theft on Facebook and got a lead.
“I woke up with this message on Messenger saying, ‘Hey, I know where your trailer’s at.'”
His trailer, the one stolen from his driveway, was advertised on Facebook Marketplace for $2500 in Gresham.
“The cops told me to make an arrangement to meet the guy myself and if it turns out to be my property, then give them a call and they’ll come,” he said. “I just thought that was a little shady for me to kind of go all the way over to Gresham and handle something like that on my own, though. … It’s way too dangerous.”
That’s when he learned about the Oregon law that makes these thefts possible.
On the Oregon DMV website, it states: “You do not have to title or register trailers with a loaded weight of 1,800 pounds or less.” That means a trailer doesn’t even need a license plate.
That’s different from Washington, where everything on the road has to be licensed.
Issue spotlighted in 2016
In 2016, KOIN 6 News did a story on Russ Dunn, whose trailer was stolen from in front of his Vancouver house. The thief was so bold he took a picture and placed an ad on Craigslist before he stole the trailer.
When the thief sold the trailer, he told the Vancouver buyer, Dick Salmon, the trailer was from Oregon.
“Oregon trailers don’t have a title,” Salmon said at that time. “So I bought it.”
At the request of KOIN 6 News, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office searched its files to determine how bad this problem is. The sheriff’s office provided a chart indicating a spike in stolen trailers since 2018 — more than 100 were stolen in the second half of 2022 and the first quarter of this year.
Vancouver police said they weren’t able to provide numbers for their jurisdiction.
Getchell then contacted his local state lawmakers — a senator and 2 state representatives — and told them about this “real bad loophole for thieves.”
Rep. Stephanie McClintock told KOIN 6 News she would “inquire on this during the interim and reach out to the appropriate committee members in the Oregon State Legislature.”
In April, State Sen. Ann Rivers said she had “a meeting with an Oregon Senator next week where this item is the topic of conversation.”
Rivers has not responded to KOIN 6 News’ request for information about how the meeting went.
Meanwhile, Getchell put more security measures on his new trailer and hopes his misfortune is someone else’s valuable lesson.
“It’s a big loophole that the thieves have found a way to steal things,” he said, leaving “a lot of people stuck.”
So, buyer beware: If you buy a trailer with no identifying marks and try to license it in Washington, you might not ever be able to get it registered without a title.
A spokesperson for the Oregon DMV said she’s certain there is no legislation in the current Salem session to close the loophole — and it hasn’t been talked about for at least several years.