Salt Lake City Police: Suspect with stolen excavator causes $45K in damages, with more bills expected

Photo: Salt Lake City Police

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Aug. 7, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — Salt Lake City police have a running tally of damage costs caused by a stolen excavator that the driver used Saturday to plow into the earth outside a west side grocery store, but they know bills may keep rolling in.

Omar Ortega, 46, has been charged in the incident and faces initial charges of:

  • Theft with value equaling or exceeding $5,000, a second-degree felony
  • Two counts of criminal mischief causing a loss greater than $5,000
  • Criminal mischief causing a loss of $500 to $1,500, a class A misdemeanor

Ortega was booked Saturday into the Salt Lake County jail, with bail set at $1,000.

The theft

“Officers with the Salt Lake City Police Department arrested a man who stole an excavator from a construction site and drove it nearly a mile to a grocery store parking lot, where he started ripping up the ground,” says an SLCPD statement released Saturday.

The excavator had been left running, police said.

“The suspect, for an unknown reason, got inside and then drove away. Crews at the construction site followed the suspect to the grocery store parking lot.”

The suspect left the roadway when he got to the Smith’s grocery store.

“The suspect caused significant damage to the ground, including hitting a water line and ripping out newly installed fiber optic utility lines,” the SLCPD statement says. “Crews from Salt Lake City Public Utilities, Salt Lake City Streets, Salt Lake City Fire and Dominion Energy responded to assess the damage and to ensure there was no gas leak…. Fortunately, there were no injuries reported and no crashes occurred while the excavator was being illegally operated.”

The Saturday statement added that “A large crowd at the grocery store helped prevent the suspect from leaving until officers arrived.”

Officers safely took the man into custody without further incident, the SLCPD statement says.

Damage costs

Ortega’s probable cause statement says the excavator taken was valued at approximately $400,000. It does not say whether the excavator has been assessed yet for full damages.

The excavator was taken from a construction site at 300 West and 900 East.

“A/P (arrested person) destroyed $500-plus dollars worth of Killgor Construction property,” the statement says. “A/P traveled with the excavator from (that address) to Smith’s parking lot on 828 S. 900 W., where he dug up the sidewalk and parking lot, destroying the gas line, water line, electric line. Unknown fiber optic cable was damaged.

“A/P caused approximately $25,000 of Smith’s property damage, $15,000 of city property damage, and potential more to come. More information to come as more victims are identified.”

So the running total stands at at least $45,000.

The probable cause statement gave no information on a possible motive in the case. Gephardt Daily will have more information as additional details are released.



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