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Thieves damage 11 buses in Austintown

Dave Robenolt of Austintown, a mechanic for Austintown schools, installs a new catalytic converter on a propane-fueled school bus that had its converter stolen over the weekend. Township police are reviewing surveillance footage that the district provided. Staff photo / R. Michsael Semple

AUSTINTOWN — Eleven Austintown school buses were stripped of catalytic converters over the weekend, forcing officials to call for a two-hour delay Monday morning.

Angie Mraz, the school district’s transportation director, said she knew something was wrong when she pulled in for work at 5 a.m.

“A driver was starting their bus, and I just heard it,” Mraz said. “A car without its exhaust is loud, so imagine that multiplied for a bus.”

Mraz and the district’s mechanic started checking the buses and discovered that 11 propane-powered buses were missing catalytic converters. Mraz said converters are easier to remove from propane-fueled buses compared to diesel-powered buses.

She said the district had six spare buses, and Boardman Local School District loaned five buses for the Austintown district to use until the situation is resolved.

Superintendent David Cappuzzello said Canfield and Jackson-Milton offered the use of their buses as well.

“I’m just so thankful to our local districts and the way they stepped in,” Cappuzzello said.

He also said the district will be filing an insurance claim. The district was able to purchase replacement converters from a company in the Columbus area that was able to “meet them halfway” in price due to the high expense and urgency of the situation. Mraz estimated that each converter is worth around $3,000, and Cappuzzello said insurance should reimburse the district for the cost.

The transportation department is hard at work replacing the converters and Cappuzzello expects to have its own fleet of buses up and running by the end of today.

Austintown Township police Lt. Thomas Collins said the department is reviewing surveillance footage the district provided. He said the department has no suspects, but it is looking for multiple culprits.

“This would have been hard for one person to pull off, so we’re looking for multiple people,” Collins said. “There are multiple different groups in the area that steal catalytic converters.”

Collins said catalytic converters are targeted for their precious metals, including platinum, palladium and rhodium.

The district’s buses are kept outside in a fenced-in area.

Collins said the thieves cut the fence in order to enter the bus lot.

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