Co-op Aids Copper Theft Sting
Three copper theft suspects are under arrest after an electric cooperative teamed up with law enforcement in a sting operation that included all-night stakeouts, a high-speed car chase and a crash.
It began with a Carroll Electric Cooperative substation being “broken into three times over the course of a month,” said Larry Fenbers, general manager of the Carrollton, Ohio-based co-op.
The thefts included a partial reel of copper clad wire taken from a utility trailer used by a contractor making repairs. A week later, the trailer was broken into again, and the sheriff came out.
“One deputy was adamant,” Fenbers recalled. “He said, ‘I want to get these guys. I’d like to camp up on that hillside and just wait for them, but I need something to entice them back out here.’”
Carroll Electric agreed to park a truck with material at the substation and leave a construction sign on the fence.
“Two deputies sat up on the hillside outside the fence from 9 o’clock at night until 6 o’clock in the morning,” Fenbers said. “It took six days, but they came back.”
That was July 26, when deputies saw a van pull over in a nearby cornfield.
“The next thing they spotted was at least one of the guys inside the substation,” Fenbers said.
Three suspects fled when a deputy ran to the substation.
One ran for a cornfield while two others headed for the van, which took off at high speed. The deputy on foot was clipped by the van but didn’t require medical attention.
“The other deputy brought their SUV off the hillside—not via the road but down the steep part—in pursuit of the van,” Fenbers said. When the suspects’ van tried to turn onto a state highway, “they didn’t make the curve” and crashed into some trees.
The pair started running and got away. But one deputy already had a suspect in mind and knew the van was owned by that man’s girlfriend.
Officers later caught one suspect. He identified the other two, who were rounded up.
A preliminary hearing was held Aug. 2. The three were granted bail—and immediately arrested by authorities from neighboring Jefferson County on arson charges. They are now being held there. The case involving the co-op is expected to go to a grand jury in September.
And it seems the co-op wasn’t the only alleged target for the trio. Inside the van, authorities said they found three chainsaws from a township garage that had been burglarized.
Fenbers said Carroll Electric began having problems with copper thefts in the summer of 2011. Those incidents combined with this summer’s left members footing an $85,000 bill for not only the stolen material, but the damages and repairs.
Fenbers said the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department works on a tight budget, and he appreciated their willingness to spare the deputies to work on the stakeout.
“I’ve got to hand it to the deputies, camping out on a hillside like that,” Fenbers added. “It’s pretty boring sitting there six nights in a row for nine hours, but it paid off.”
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