MOUNT PLEASANT - Thieves who knew their way around construction equipment used a stolen fork lift to tear a ATM off its base outside a SunTrust bank branch in Monday morning.

Investigators are now trying to determine if the heist is connected to at least five similar ATM thefts that have occurred across the state.

Police were called to 3072 U.S. Highway 17 North after an alarm sounded at the bank’s Ivy Hall branch at 4:55 a.m., Capt. Stan Gragg said.

Officers found the entire ATM missing and a mess of wires sticking from the ground. A forklift was parked about 15 feet away with its engine running and its lift still in the air, according to a police report.

A supervisor with Gulf Stream Construction told police the crane had been stolen from a construction site near the Charleston National neighborhood.

The machine was valued at about $20,000, police said. Investigators have not determined how much money was inside the machine, Gragg said.

Gulf Stream supervisor Doyle Long told The Post and Courier the rented forklift had been used in the construction of a sound barrier as part of the Highway 17 widening project. Some apparently had a key to fire up the machine and then drove a mile or so down the road to the bank site, he said.

The thieves knew enough about the machine to disable its reverse alarm, cutting down on noise by keeping it from beeping when backing up, Long said.

“My reaction wasn’t real good when I heard about it,” he said. “But this sort of thing has happened before.”

At least five times, as a matter of fact.

In April 2000, thieves used a stolen forklift to spear an ATM and hoist it onto a stolen pickup truck outside a Lexington bank.

Authorities said the thieves in that case may also be responsible for as many as four other ATM thefts around the state. Thieves also used stolen construction equipment and a purloined pickup to swipe an ATM from a Pawley’s Island bank last year.