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Terra Ceia post office mailbox stolen, found three miles away

TERRA CEIA — What’s big, blue, bolted to the ground and weighs close to 200 pounds?

A United States Postal Service mailbox.

And somehow, someone managed to remove one that was bolted to the ground outside the Terra Ceia post office overnight Tuesday.

Postmaster Sheila Brunger said she arrived at her post office at 1891 Center Road at 8 a.m. Tuesday, but didn’t notice it was missing until about 10:15 a.m.

“I can’t even believe it myself,” she said Wednesday. “I just happened to go outside and see it was gone. It’s like something that’s always there, and then all of sudden your mouth drops open when it’s not.”

At first, Brunger assumed her maintenance department had removed the blue beast.

It was almost two decades old, and she’d recently requested a replacement. It needed new paint and new stickers, among other updates.

She got frustrated when she realized she wouldn’t be able to empty the box that afternoon and send off her customers’ mail.

“You know, they really should let me know if they’re going to take it,” Brunger told her supervisor during a phone call that morning.

“Call maintenance in Tampa,” he told her.

When she did, USPS maintenance mechanic William Everetts told her his crew hadn’t taken it.

“That’s when I realized I had to report it,” Brunger said. “I thought, ‘It’s stolen, I can’t believe it. It was bolted down.’ ”

So she called the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office’s nonemergency line.

“The dispatcher laughed, the police laughed, I laughed. It was funny,” she recalled.

But then she realized there could be a serious problem.

On any given day, 30 to 50 pieces of mail are dropped into that box.

She called back her supervisor, then sent an e-mail out to all postmasters in the area alerting them about what had happened and whom to contact if they encountered similar issues.

Hours later, Manatee County sanitation workers discovered the mailbox about three miles away in Rubonia near a set of railroad tracks. It was unopened and undamaged, according to a sheriff’s report.

Deputies fingerprinted the box and, using a dolly, an Ellenton post office custodian delivered it back to its rightful home.

When it arrived, Brunger said she and her staff were dying to know what was inside.

“What did someone put in there they needed out so bad? Was it a hate letter, a love letter? We were so anxious to see what was inside,” she said.

So she opened the lock and peaked in, then laughed at what she saw.

Inside was sole piece of mail: a bill.

Something else that baffled Brunger: The thieves made so much effort to remove the mailbox, but they didn’t touch its lock.

“They cut the bolts off, and I don’t even know how they got under the legs ... how they lifted it,” she said. “It was definitely more than one person. They had to have had a pickup. They did all that work and it wasn’t a crazy lock to get open.”

On Wednesday, Everetts delivered Brunger’s shiny new blue mailbox and lugged the relic it replaced away.

“It’s extra secure today,” she said of her new mailbox.

As of Wednesday, sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow said there were no suspects in the theft.

Tampering with a mailbox is a federal offense that can lead to a fine or possibly jail time.

Anyone with information about the theft can call the sheriff’s office at (941) 747-3011.