Elks Lodge safe stolen on New Year's Eve recovered

A safe stolen from the Ashland Elks Lodge on New Year's Day was found Monday off Griffin Creek Road by a passerby, police said.

Ashland police Sgt. Tighe O'Meara said the burglary occurred between 2 and 4 a.m. on Jan. 1. The 3-foot-tall drop safe was in the building when a staff member locked up at 2 a.m. but had disappeared by the time an Elks employee arrived at 4 a.m.

A drop safe allows users to deposit cash without opening the safe but requires a code to open and retrieve the money.

Police are still trying to determine how the thieves entered the building or whether someone hid inside and stole the safe after the building was locked. O'Meara would not say where the safe was located in the building or the value of the contents. Officers were reviewing surveillance footage from the evening and had not yet ruled out employees as suspects, O'Meara said.

The Elks Lodge hosted 120 people for dinner on New Year's Eve, according to Chairman of the Trustees Fred Hatfield.

"Towards the end of the night there was hardly anybody here," Hatfield said.

A citizen discovered the abandoned safe at about 3:30 p.m. Monday off Griffin Creek Road between Phoenix and Jacksonville, O'Meara said. Ashland police were collecting forensic evidence on the outside and had yet to open the safe Tuesday afternoon, but O'Meara believed it had been emptied. Police had yet to determine whether or how the safe was opened.

"There is no signs of a torch being used on it," he said. "There is some damage that looks like someone took a hammer to it."

In August, a van was stolen from Helman Street and later discovered on Old Stage Road between Jacksonville and Central Point. Police say the coincidence of two stolen items turning up in the same area has not gone unnoticed.

"We're looking at that, too," he said. "We will analyze the two cases."

Police ask that anyone with information call the tip line at 541-552-2333.

Reach reporter Mandy Valencia at 541-776-4486 or by email at avalencia@mailtribune.com.

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