Derek Ellis grew up in a world where you didn’t have to lock your door at night, and if you heard about someone’s house being burglarized, it was rare.

Boy, has that world changed.

Ellis, 40, of Skowhegan, is a self-employed carpenter who carries all the tools of his trade in an enclosed job trailer which, on Monday night, was burglarized of items worth $8,000 to $9,000.

He had left the locked trailer at a job site on U.S. Route 2 in Skowhegan that was well-lit and surrounded by other buildings — not the kind of place you’d expect burglars to hit.

But Ellis arrived at the site Tuesday to find the trailer lock broken and many of the tools gone.

“There were nail guns, a compressor, chop saw, table saw — all high end construction equipment,” he said.

The tools are a perfect target for burglars because most are light-weight, small, worth a lot of money — and easy to sell, he said.

Ellis, whose vocation enables him to make a living for him, his wife, and 3-year-old daughter, said he is not alone. In the last six or seven years, many contractors he knows have been burglarized.

“These guys hit job trailers because they know it’s a construction site and probably there’s no one there at night and they’re very salable items.”

He is not naive about why such thefts have increased.

“It’s terrible times for people,” he said. “It’s either for food, prescription drugs or something along those lines. The prescription drug epidemic is out of control.”

This is not the first time Ellis has been victimized. About four years ago, his trailer was cleaned out completely, to the tune of about $30,000 worth of tools — and then, he had no insurance.

“I’ve spent the last four or five years replacing that stuff, out of pocket,” he said.

A couple of years ago, he went into a store and came out five minutes later to discover a chain saw had been stolen out of the tool box in the back of his truck in broad daylight.

“Let’s face it, unless you’re staring at it, someone can grab something really quick. These guys aren’t criminal masterminds or anything; they’re opportunists,” he said.

The first time his job trailer was burglarized, he was angry and wanted to find the person who did it; this time, he is more realistic about the improbability of recovering the tools. Also, this time, fortunately, he is insured.

In a couple of weeks, he’ll be able to start buying new tools, as his insurance claim moves along.

But nothing is simple. He has fewer tools to work with on his current job, which puts pressure on the project.

“The client you’re working for understands what happened and they feel bad, but at the same time, their house is torn apart. So there are other problems it creates. It’s a serious ripple effect; it goes on and on.”

After Monday’s burglary, Ellis posted a note on Facebook to warn other potential victims.

He got an unexpected response, with people showing support and offering to lend him tools until he can replace his own. Contractors, he said, always are generous in that way. When one of his friends had tools stolen a couple of weeks ago, Ellis immediately called him to offer his own.

“Two weeks later, it’s me,” he said. “The wild part about it is, I knew it was coming. Whether you believe it’s going to happen to you or not, it’s going to happen. That’s the reality of what’s going on today with the problems that we face.”

Police do the best they can to solve the crimes, but there aren’t enough officers and resources to handle the load they face, Ellis contends.

“How do you solve any kind of superwidespread epidemic or problem when you don’t have the resources to do it? There’s no trick pony that’s going to solve it.”

He is under no illusion that things are going to get better any time soon.

“It’s just the changing face of Maine. It’s been coming this way forever. It’s not like this is a new problem in New York City,” he said. “You can make a dent in it, but you got one guy pulled over and the next guy gets by. You’re chasing your tail.”

Ellis could buy a costly alarm system for his trailer, hire people to watch over it or even sleep in it at night, but he knows there’s no sure fix.

“You have to just be superdiligent in protecting yourself,” he said. “You can never let your guard down.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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