With the quiet of a burglar’s finely finessed tools or through a brute hacksaw meter-decapitation, someone has been making off with parking money from the City of Hood River.
“This has been going on for a few months,” said Hood River Police Department Detective Don Cheli, who notes that the parking meter theft incidents are not a matter of small change.
“They’ve taken between $7,000 and $10,000,” said Cheli, whose loss-estimates are based on average income from the tapped meters and do not include the additional cost and labor to replace broken units.
“They’ve been cutting off the double meter heads or making keys,” said Cheli. “It costs $607.50 for a replacement double meter, not counting the labor.”
“We arrested one individual on an outstanding warrant from California, but we couldn’t hold him at NORCOR for health issues. He had a heart attack in the ambulance. He’s had numerous heart attacks.”
According to Cheli, Walter Lewis Schmidt, 65, was cited, following his warrant arrest, for theft and criminal mischief, based on police-obtained evidence. He was released as a result of a medical condition that required transport to a Portland hospital.
Schmidt was scheduled to appear in Hood River Circuit Court on Oct. 1, but did not show.
Whether Schmidt is the Hood River meter-thief is yet to be proven; however, he was recently arrested in Salem and in California, on similar charges. According to Salem police reports, Schmidt was caught in the act of stealing money from meters.
Schmidt has additional police and prison records that include a history of meter theft and the use of burglary tools.
Three Hood River meters have already been replaced following the first round of thefts, according to Cheli, and another two are awaiting replacement.
What is certain in the meter-mangling mystery is that Hood River County Sheriff’s deputies recently located a stash of dismantled and drained meters — from Hood River and other unknown jurisdictions — at the Herman Creek trailhead on Sept. 25. Schmidt is a suspect in connection with the find.
“Schmidt was picked up and later released in Stevenson recently and his car (a silver 1994 Ford Thunderbird) was impounded,” said Cheli. While it is unknown whether Schmidt has retrieved his prior vehicle, Cheli notes that he may also have access to a Dodge pickup truck.
Schmidt is a white male, 5 feet 10 inches, 175 pounds, with blue eyes. He has mug shot photos that depict him alternately with close-cropped, blonde, reddish, brown or white hair. He is also shown in glasses and with a mustache.
The thefts, according to Cheli, have occurred at all hours. Citizens who may observe suspicious activity around city meters are advised to contact the Hood River Police Department via 9-1-1 or Cheli at 541-387-5256 during business hours.