Police: Salem Township man ran ‘chop shop’ using ATVs, mowers
A Salem Township man arrested this summer on multiple charges of allegedly stealing all-terrain vehicles and lawn tractors from retail dealers throughout Westmoreland County was accused Wednesday by state police of operating an illegal “chop shop.”
William E. Cochran Jr., 31, was arraigned on two counts of illegal operation of a chop shop, plus four counts each of theft, altering vehicle identification numbers and receiving stolen property and single counts of defiant trespass and criminal mischief. The complaints were filed by the state police vehicle theft task force unit before Washington Township District Judge Jason Buczak.
The new charges filed by Trooper Jason Morgan allege that since his original complaints were filed by troopers at the Kiski station in July for stealing lawn tractors and ATVs from dealerships in North Huntingdon, Salem and Sewickley townships, he allegedly stole a hauler trailer from a landscape contractor in Hempfield. Investigators allege in an affidavit of probable cause that Cochran used the trailer to haul multiple power tools and riding lawnmowers he allegedly stole off landscapers and tree trimmers while their work vehicles were parked in various locations near Slickville, in Salem Township, and in Hempfield Township.
Morgan said troopers uncovered the most recent thefts after Cochran was arrested Nov. 27 at his home on Hawk Drive, where a woman alleged Cochran threatened to kill her after she confronted him about physically abusing their dog. Cochran has been held in the Westmoreland County Prison after failing to post $100,000 bail following his arrest on cruelty to animals, making terroristic threats, harassment and resisting arrest in that case.
Troopers in the Nov. 27 case reported in court documents the female victim provided investigators with surveillance video of Cochran abusing the dog.
During an interview with troopers, the woman told police “that there were stolen chainsaws, tree trimming equipment, a weed trimmer, a Garmin GPS unit, and utility trailers on the property.”
Troopers obtained search warrants, including for an enclosed trailer that Cochran allegedly kept on a relative’s property near Irwin that was reported stolen from the Tractor Supply store in Murrysville.
Morgan alleges that the woman told police that “William has been stealing trailers with his Dodge Ram for the last two months.”
Troopers allege that Cochran would then alter the vehicle identification numbers on the items, paint them and install new lights on trailers to avoid them being detected by investigators.
According to online dockets, Cochran is awaiting trial April 1 before President Judge Rita Hathaway on charges for the thefts of a $12,000 all-terrain utility vehicle allegedly stolen from Norwin Supply Co. in North Huntingdon, a $5,000 riding lawn tractor from Labuda Farm Service in Sewickley Township plus a zero-turn riding lawn mower and a second Dixie Chopper mower, both valued at $4,500 and allegedly stolen from West Central Equipment in Salem.
Cochran also is awaiting trial on two felony counts of drug possession with intent to distribute, for allegedly selling methamphetamine out of a residence in Forbes Trail Trailer Park, filed by agents with the state Attorney General’s drug task force. According to court documents, police used an informant to arrange drug buys from Cochran on two occasions in February.
During a video arraignment on the new complaints, Buczak increased Cochran’s current $100,000 bail to $250,000, according to online dockets. He scheduled preliminary hearings on the new complaints for Jan. 7.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, email@example.com or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.