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Just over a year after Sophia Strother launched her van delivery businesses, landing a contract with Amazon gave her company the lift it needed. But a recent string of thefts and a fire that gutted four of her vans has become her biggest challenge yet.
For months, Strother has been asking for increased security measures at the Northeast Austin lot that houses her fleet of delivery vans. And last week, one of her fears became reality.
Around 11:51 p.m. Jan. 5 Austin firefighters responded to reports of a blaze in a parking lot at 201 W. Howard Lane, just east of Interstate 35. When they arrived, the fire involved four parked Amazon delivery vans.
The fire was extinguished, but it resulted in damage worth an estimated $130,000, fire officials reported.
Investigators have not identified anyone who might be responsible, but Austin Fire Department officials told the American-Statesman last week that every aspect was being investigated.
Overnight fire on Howard Lane involving Amazon delivery vans, call initiated at 11:51 pm, 4 vans parked in maintenance area were damaged. Estimated at $130k loss. Cause is still under investigation.
— Austin Fire Info (@AustinFireInfo) January 6, 2022
Strother, who found out about the fire the next morning, said this week that fire officials confirmed that the fire was arson. She said evidence left behind showed that someone took cloths, ignited them and put them in the gas tank of each of the three vans. The fourth van caught on fire because of its proximity to the other vehicles.
Strother owns and houses about 30 Amazon vans at the property.
“This has been disheartening and has really brought down internal staff morale,” she said. “On top of that, I’m now out $15,000 all because safety measures were not in place.”
Strother said before last week, multiple issues and concerns with safety at the property had gone unanswered.
According to online police records, at least 13 crime reports have been made at the Howard Lane address since September 2020, which is when Strother launched L2E Industries.
She said some of the women she employs had been harassed as they were getting off work, other workers have had their tires slashed, and catalytic converters had been stolen.
“We’ve been complaining for months to Amazon and the property owners, because we have had so many issues,” she said. “We need better lighting and security out there.”
In early December, after several catalytic converters were stolen from a few of the Amazon vehicles, Strother said Amazon hired a security team, Allied Universal, to monitor the property overnight as part of other security measures.
But on Jan. 5, the security team was not on site.
Strother said Amazon is going to install more security cameras and light towers, but it could be several weeks before that happens.
In the meantime, she is turning to Austin’s law enforcement team to help tighten security and safety in the area.
Austin police officer Adam Soliz told the Statesman on Wednesday that they were unaware of a request from Strother but planned to have directed patrols in the area, which means an on-duty officer would do routine patrol drive-bys in between 911 calls.
“It's disappointing — and my thing is the safety of my staff," Strother said. "If someone is brave enough to escalate acts, that's a bit concerning. And unless we have better security, I’m afraid this will happen more.”
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Amazon van operator sought better security before fire gutted vehicles