TRAVERSE CITY — Lisa Knickerbocker awoke to an unpleasant surprise on New Year’s Day.
The high-end snow blower her son Justin, 24, bought her with his own hard-earned income was gone, stolen from her front yard.
“I looked out the front door and I said, “Oh my God,” Lisa Knickerbocker, 49, said. “And Justin’s face just turned white as a sheet.”
Tracks leading from their Garfield Township home suggested someone rolled the snow blower to the street, hoisted it into the back of a pickup truck and drove off through the New Year’s Eve darkness.
A snow blower registers relatively low on most individuals’ lists of worldly possessions. But this snow blower was fully equipped with an electric starter, heated hand warmers and “automatic everything,” Lisa Knickerbocker said. More importantly, though, it was a gift from a son raised in a single-parent home who was trying to look out for his mother before he moved across the country.
Justin Knickerbocker said he’s California-bound in about a month. He said he’s taking a job with Google -- Lisa Knickerbocker called it a once in a lifetime opportunity -- and before he left he wanted to make sure his mother could dig herself out of northern Michigan’s typical heavy snow in his absence.
Lisa Knickerbocker said she suffers from degenerative disc problems. She had surgery about three years ago to alleviate some of her chronic neck pain, but doctors told her to stay away from shoveling snow. And an old, manual-start snow blower Lisa Knickerbocker used to own was difficult to operate, which prompted Justin to spend $700 out of his own pocket on the used, though now-stolen upgrade.
“It made me cry,” Lisa Knickerbocker said of the moment her son surprised her with the new snow blower before Thanksgiving.
“I think that’s what hurts me now. That he earned this money to buy something for me and somebody took it upon themselves to steal it.”
Theft is nothing new to Justin Knickerbocker. He works in security at a local big box retailer. But he was surprised when the snow blower vanished, considering people all over the Grand Traverse area leave such equipment out in the open all the time.
The Knickerbockers contacted Grand Traverse County sheriff’s deputies and filed a report.
Sheriff’s Lt. Bryan Marrow said snow blower thefts are relatively rare in the county, though one East Bay Township resident reported a snow blower stolen from a garage in late December.
Marrow said deputies will investigate the Knickerbocker’s loss by checking for-sale ads in newspapers and Craigslist, and following up on any tips the sheriff’s department receives.
For his part, Justin Knickerbocker contacted local pawn shops and scoured Craigslist himself looking for leads.
Lisa Knickerbocker also posted an account of what happened on Facebook. Friends, acquaintances and total strangers passed along her story more than 1,500 times in two days.
The showing of support on Facebook provided some solace to Lisa Knickerbocker, but overall the snow blower theft has tarnished her view of her neighbors and other residents of the Grand Traverse area.
“You want to have that sense of trust, but you can’t have it, unfortunately,” she said. “Not to say there’s all bad people out there. There’s just some who ruin it for everyone.”
Lisa Knickerbocker still hopes the snow blower will appear good-as-new outside her home one day soon. Justin, too, has faith it will turn up again, one way or another.
“Criminals aren’t always the smartest group of people,” he said.