By Josh Letner
A burglary the night of the Joplin tornado turned a small business that escaped the storm into a victim of another sort, ultimately prompting the owner to lay off employees and close his doors in Joplin.
However, in the aftermath of the crime, Shane Smith said the business has shifted its emphasis and discovered an even more profitable niche.
About 8 p.m. on May 22, 2011, Smith got to the store — Smith Family Powersports at 2201 E. 7th St. — and found that it had not been hit. Power was out and phone lines were dead, but everything was intact.
But early the next morning he got a call reporting that the store appeared to have been damaged, with windows broken out.
According to a probable-cause affidavit filed by Joplin police detective Darren McIntosh, Jake Ammon Busby stole nine motorcycles and scooters as well as $5,430 worth of tools that night. All together, Smith put the value of the bikes and tools that were taken at about $20,000.
Smith alleges Busby took advantage of power outages and the fact that police were busy because of the chaos that ensued after the storm. He said the lack of power knocked out the store’s security cameras, and the loss of phone service meant that, once tripped, the store’s alarm could not notify police of the break-in.
“He pushed bikes all night to his house,” Smith said of Busby.
“If it was any other night it wouldn’t have happened.”
Smith says he offered a $500 reward for information, and calls began coming in implicating Busby in the theft.
“One of his friends was so mad at him for doing it he turned him in, and he didn’t even want the $500,” Smith said.
At first, Smith said he couldn’t believe the claims because Busby had been a “loyal customer.”
“Jake Busby used to come in every week and buy something,” he said. “We loaned him gas money, we loaned him tools and taught him how to work on bikes. I would have never thought it was him. Even when we were tipped off that it was him, I didn’t believe it because he was a good customer and he didn’t own a car. But as it turned out, he just pushed the bikes to his house because he just lived a few blocks away.”
A few days later, Smith and officers from the Joplin Police Department went to Busby’s home where they recovered some of the stolen tools and several motorcycles, but five bikes were never recovered.
The affidavit states that Busby damaged the bikes in an attempt to make them untraceable.
“We recovered most of the tools, but the bikes were trashed,” Smith said. “They were stripped down and the (VIN) numbers were all ground off of them. Only one of them still ran.”
Worse still, Smith found that his insurance had a $1,000 deductible for each bike and in the end he was paid less than $3,000 for the bikes, leaving him to make up the difference.
Smith says down time for repairs to his building combined with declining sales after the storm and the loss of inventory prompted him to close his Joplin location in October and lay off two full-time employees.
“You have to have inventory to sell inventory, so after the tornado we were only selling about 10 bikes per month and our mechanic had lost a lot of his tools,” Smith said. “To be closed for a week without bringing money in and still paying wages is still pretty tough.”
Smith said his business was selling about 50 bikes per month before the storm at its Joplin location. After closing the Joplin store, he decided to get out of selling and repairing motorcycles altogether and focus instead on selling accessories online from a location in Neosho.
“We split the business and moved the online business to Neosho, which turned out to be a lifesaver for us,” he said. “Part of why we do online is we don’t trust anymore. There is no shoplifting. We actually don’t sell bikes at all because of that.”
Smith said that while his Joplin location closed, online sales have flourished.
“In Joplin we were lucky if we sold $6,000 or $7,000 a month in accessories, but now we are averaging about $200,000 in accessories,” he said. “This year we’ve already done $1.3 million in sales and have four full-time employees.”
Busby, 27, pleaded guilty on July 6 to one count each of second-degree burglary and stealing — both class C felonies. Three additional counts of stealing were dropped as part of a plea deal that would limit his sentences to seven years on each charge, to run concurrently.
“I think he needs to go to prison, but not forever because he needs to pay me back, too,” Smith said. “It would have never crossed my mind that while people were out there dying and needing help, there were other people who were stealing, and that bugs me more than anything.”
A sentencing hearing for Jake Ammon Busby is scheduled for Sept.14 in the Jasper County Courthouse in Joplin.