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Robotics team visiting Utah out thousands of dollars after theft of trailer

Posted at 5:52 PM, Mar 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-06 10:57:03-05

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah - A robotics team from a California high school competing in Utah is out tens of thousands of dollars.

The team from Monta Vista High School near San Jose, California, was competing at the Maverik Center.

Someone stole a trailer with all their gear inside as it was parked outside their hotel. The students were staying at the Country Inn and Suites near 3400 South Decker Lake Boulevard.

John Yelinek, the team’s mentor, discovered the trailer was gone as he and the team were preparing to return home to California early Sunday morning.

“I went inside and told some of them, and they were pretty devastated,” Yelinek said.

The team of about 100 students has been working on its robot since January. They are sponsored by Google, Microsoft and other tech companies. Their robot was worth about $50,000.

The students have spent hundreds of hours – even working around the clock on some days – to build their robot.

“We’ve got sensors and motors and gears and it goes on and on, and the kids do it all,” Yelinek said.

Lt. Amy Maurer, with West Valley City Police, said folks traveling with a separate trailer should take precautions.

“When you have a separate trailer, put any kind of lock on it you can,” Maurer said. “It's kind of just, opportunities. Bad guys will see opportunities, so you just have to try to minimize. So anything you can do. It's just hard in a hotel parking lot, that's pretty unsecure."

A blue pickup truck identified as a suspect vehicle turned out to be stolen. The trailer also contained valuable gear the team uses.

The crime may have put an abrupt ending to the team’s competition season.

“You put your robot in a bag before your first competition and then you can’t touch it until you get to the competition, and then you put it back in the bag and leave it there until your next competition,” Yelinek said.

They must receive an exemption to build a replacement to compete in Boise later this month.

“They are so resilient; if they have the opportunity to build a robot and compete again, they will,” Yelinek said. “They are phenomenal kids.”

The team isn’t giving up hope that its original work will be found.

"If anybody sees a trailer, it's like I said a U-Haul trailer, and it's parked somewhere funny or you're in your neighborhood and you've never seen a trailer like that before—we just ask you to call us if it's suspicious and we'll come out and run the plate and hopefully find this trailer," Maurer said.

West Valley City Police's non-emergency dispatch can be reached at 801-840-4000.

A Go Fund Me account has been set up to help the team.