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THIEVES SWIPE HIS TOOLS, BUT CAN'T TAKE HIS DRIVE

Lawns are this 75-year-old's livelihood, and despite being a target for theft, that's not changing.

Richard Maynard is 75, an age where most men rest their bones in the cool shade, but on this morning he stood beside his ancient blue work truck, sweat collecting under his chin, holding a broken lock.

He was ready to get moving.

"I got bills I got to pay," he said.

Maynard runs Richard's Lawn Service, which serves about 40 customers from Gulfport to Snell Isle. One morning last week, he walked outside his Midtown house and discovered that someone had broken into the plywood trailer behind his truck and stolen nearly $1,400 worth of equipment. Gone: a weed eater, a chain saw, a leaf blower, a hedge trimmer and a can of gasoline. He said the same thing happened to him about two years ago.

Landscaping professionals are easy targets for thieves, police say. They often store expensive equipment in plain view, ready to be plucked away by a drug addict looking for quick cash or a competitor who wants to boost his working capital.

While hard numbers are elusive for such a specific crime, St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Proffitt estimates that his agency investigates one or two landscaping-equipment thefts per week.

Maynard is recovering from prostate cancer, and his sideburns grow in wisps of white, but his big hands hold steady and his biceps are thick and firm.

He lives with his wife, daughter and grandson on a corner lot in the shadow of Tropicana Field. He says he cannot afford to retire.

"He's as hard working and honest a man as you'll find," said Betty Jean Miller, a Snell Isle customer for nearly two decades.

Maynard said the first theft happened about 2005. Although a police report could not be found, he said he lost nearly everything except his riding lawn mower.

"They want that dope," he said, "and they'll do anything to get it."

He eventually replenished his tool supply, thanks to help from customers like Miller and bargain-hunting at pawn shops. And then, Aug. 3, it happened again. According to a police report, someone cut the padlock on his trailer with bolt cutters and made off with the goods while Maynard slept. The thief even took two packs of Salem Ultra Light 100s from his truck.

His daughter, Angela Roberson, an administrative support specialist for Pinellas County, said she has tried to persuade Maynard to slow down.

"Maybe someday he'll realize he needs to rest," she said.

Not yet.

Soon after the burglary, he went to Home Depot and bought four steel fence posts. He poured concrete into the earth and set the posts in a line to make a barrier: Now no one can open the back gate of his trailer without moving the whole truck.

How will he replace his tools?

"Piece by piece," he said.

He still had his mower and his five-gallon jug. Noontime was coming, and there was grass to be cut.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or (727) 992-8665.

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