Metal prices drive crime wave.
Thieves in Eugene have reached a new low in trying to cash in on metal prices that are at an all-time high.
In their efforts to make a quick buck, they're now looting local cemeteries.
Brass flower urns, cemetery sprinkler heads - even a brass plaque pried from a tombstone - have begun turning up at local metal recycling plants.
"What is this world coming to when people start stealing plaques off gravestones?" Eugene police Detective Bob Holland said. "When you think about people prowling a graveyard for scrap metal - there's just something wrong with that."
Local police have seen a huge upswing in metal thefts, starting about six months ago when the price of metal started to rise. Early thieves were sneaking into construction sites and pulling electric wiring out of the walls.
Soon they started targeting the scrap yards themselves, pillaging the copper, brass and aluminum bins at night and returning in the morning to sell what they had stolen.
In the past month, the thefts have increased exponentially, Holland said. The thieves are looking for any nonferrous metal - brass, aluminum, copper - that they can quickly and easily convert into drug money.
They have pulled hundreds of feet of wiring from bike paths and street lighting systems, a trend that has cost the city about $250,000 in damage and repairs, Holland said. The recent theft of 500 feet of copper lighting wire plunged a stretch of the Fern Ridge Bike Path into darkness.
Thieves also are targeting utilities, cutting through fencing and stealing wire and other items from inside. Someone cut the grounds off a 510,000-volt transmission tower maintained by the federal Bonneville Power Administration in Goshen. "One of these days we're going to hear a big pop and get the smell of burned hair," Holland said. `It'll be `Beam me up, Scotty. You've been transported.' '
Someone broke into a quarry on Sears Road, cut all the electrical connections off the rock crushers and stripped them for the heavy copper wire. "It shut their operation down for a week while they rewired," Holland said.
Insulated copper wire sells for 60 to 80 cents a pound at local scrap yards. Stripped of the insulation, it's worth about $3 a pound. It's not uncommon for police to find mountains of stripped insulation at transient camps along the rivers and under freeway bridges, Holland said.
Metal recyclers have no legal obligation to ensure that the metal they buy isn't stolen. As they have become more aware of the problem, though, local companies have tried harder to screen out obviously stolen scrap, Holland said.
And recyclers such as Pacific Recycling in west Eugene have welcomed detectives who want to monitor what comes in. "They're joking about giving me a desk," he said.
People convicted of stealing metal can face up to five years in prison, depending on the value of the metal, according to Springfield police Sgt. John King.
On Monday, Holland cited a woman who pulled up in a car loaded with 4-inch aluminum pipe she claimed to have found. The pipe had been stolen from Willamette Valley Co., which had been remodeling its facility.
On Wednesday, another woman drove up in a car loaded with 280 pounds of high-grade aluminum bar stock. She told Holland she got it from a friend. "It's obviously stolen," he said.
A man brought in the brass flower urns. He said he bought them "from some old guy." He came back later with the brass plaque. The scrap yard turned him away.
"This is what it's degenerated to, they're taking things from cemeteries," Holland said. "Is nothing sacred?"
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|Title Annotation:||Crime; Scavengers hit cemeteries, construction sites and utility lots in their hunt for items that can be sold for scrap value|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Aug 25, 2006|
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