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How low can they go?

Byline: The Register-Guard

What kind of scumbag lowlife steals the freaking brass plaque from a tombstone - pries it right off! - to sell it as scrap metal?

The same kind that would try to make a buck by snatching brass flower urns from Eugene area grave sites. Heck, these reptiles are digging up the cemetery sprinkler heads, for heaven's sake, and trying to foist them off on metal recycling plants.

What's next, honest-to-goodness grave robbing? How low can they go?

The motivation for such despicable behavior is, of course, money - most often, quick money for drugs. Scrap metal prices are setting records, and metal thieves are apparently in a class by themselves when it comes to pilfering other people's property.

Thefts of nonferrous metal - brass, aluminum, copper - have shot up in the Eugene-Springfield area over the past month. Construction sites were hit first, easy marks for copper pipes and electrical wiring.

Soon the robbers became more ambitious, branching out to public facilities and utilities. They have pulled hundreds of feet of wiring from Eugene's bike paths and street lighting systems at a cost to the city of a quarter-million dollars.

The recent theft of 500 feet of copper lighting wire blacked out a long stretch of the Fern Ridge Bike Path.

Insulated copper wire sells for 60 to 80 cents a pound at local scrap yards. With the plastic insulation stripped off, it's worth about $3 a pound.

Police regularly find the tell-tale sign of wire thieves - piles of stripped insulation - at transient camps along the rivers and under freeway bridges.

Metal recyclers aren't required to verify that the stuff they buy isn't stolen, but most aren't interested in unwittingly facilitating illegal trade in metals, much less ghoulish raids on cemetery plots. Many recyclers are cooperating with police efforts to monitor the stolen metal market, and some simply refuse to buy suspicious items. Like boxfuls of brass flower urns, or plaques that say "In memory of our beloved mother," or carloads of construction-grade aluminum pipe.

Penalties for a metal theft conviction aren't trivial. They range up to five years in prison, depending on the value of the stolen items.

But if the thieves continue to steal from cemeteries and bike paths, maybe Lane County courts need to add some additional options for making restitution.

How about a year of digging graves with a garden trowel, or running a bicycle-operated generator to power the lights on a vandalized bike path?

Maybe with a device that administers a little jolt if the pedals stop turning before the daily sentence is fully served.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Metal thieves are stealing urns from cemeteries
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Aug 28, 2006
Words:429
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