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New laws target metal theft in Idaho, Washington

It’s now a felony in Idaho to steal copper or other metals from an electrical substation or other utility installation and interrupt service in the process, and utilities are immune from liability if thieves are injured in the act of their pilfering. Plus, Idaho scrap dealers must photograph each of their customers who sells them metal, along with the metal and their vehicle and license plate. Avista Corp. sought the new law, saying it’s seen more than 100 thefts in the past three years and losses of about $400,000; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho’s new law took effect this week; Washington also beefed up its existing anti-metal theft laws this year, setting up a new system requiring scrap dealers to be licensed, and requiring dealers to keep sales transaction records for five years instead of one. “It’s happening everywhere,” said Avista spokeswoman Debbie Simock. “It’s a nationwide issue that utilities across the country are experiencing.”

They’re not alone – farms, construction sites and railroads also are reporting big losses from metal theft. That includes everyone from farmers on the Rathdrum Prairie whose sprinkler equipment has been targeted, to Kootenai Electric Cooperative, which last September had to spend $10,000 to replace grounding wires on 60 of its power poles, for which the thieves likely earned only about $200 from the metal. Ratepayers foot the bill.

“It causes damage to the electric system, which impacts reliability,” said Idaho Power spokesman Kevin Winslow. “The costs impact our customers, and it’s also a safety issue.”

Idaho/WA combat metal thieves

Avista linemen Mitch Colvin, left, and Bill Shaffer worked with a crew to install a replacement pole in Coeur d’Alene on Tuesday. Included in all replacement poles is a metal guard to deter the theft of copper wiring.

BOISE – Metal thieves who steal from electrical substations and other utility installations in Idaho now face stiffer penalties, particularly if their pilfering interrupts service.

And if the thieves are injured in the act, utilities now enjoy immunity from legal liability.

It’s part of an overall crackdown on metal theft that also includes new requirements that scrap dealers photograph those who sell them metal and gather other information that authorities could later use to identify them, if necessary.

Have you ever been the victim of any kind of theft? What was taken and from where?

Metal thieves on the prowl

Metal thieves have been busy in the Spokane Valley area lately. Spokesman-Review reporter Nicole Hensley has detals on two recent thefts. On Monday a heavy truck salvage yard reported the theft of 27 semi wheels. Apparently each of the wheels weighs 60 pounds. It makes one wonder if they needed a semi to haul it all away. Click here for more details.

Thieves also stole metal roofing destined for the construction of the new Dick's Sporting Goods store at the Spokane Valley Mall. The metal was also stolen Monday. (For all Dick's Sporting Goods fans, the store is scheduled to open Nov. 9.) Click here for more details.

Metal theft nets $250k restitution

A man who stole metal as part of a licensed business has been ordered to pay about $250,000 in restitution.

 Tristan M. Goiri-Christensen, 26, a former Crime Stoppers fugitive, pleaded guilty last week to first-degree theft and eight counts of first-degree trafficking in stolen property and was credited for a day already spent in jail.

He's to be on probation for a year. Goiri-Christensen is part of a band of suspected metal thieves who created a Spokane-based business, complete with licenses from the Washington Department of Revenue, to get around state laws designed to discourage theft by making it tougher for individuals to sell stolen metal to scrap yards.

The state exempts licensed businesses from the mandatory 10-day waiting period for payments of over $30 on scrap metal sold to recyclers. The thefts cost Avista Utilties thousands of dollars. Read more here.

City worker helps nab theft suspect

A city water department employee led police to two burglary suspects recently when he took a cellphone photo of the license plate of a suspicious vehicle.

Lawrence Tieken saw the 1995 Ford flat-bed truck parked at a City of Spokane pump house at North Havana Street and East Wellesley Avenue last Monday, then observed a younger man and woman exit the roof access of the pump house.

Thousands of dollars in copper wire was missing from the pump house.

Tieken took photos of the culprits, but they covered their faces just in time. But he was able to photograph the truck's rear license plate.

Police identified the truck's owner, and the Patrol Anti-Crime Team identified Cody A. Cabo, 19, as an associate.

Cabo was contacted Wednesday in the 3900 block of North Market Street after citizens reported a man on drugs. He admitted to the burglary, according to court documents, and said “Hillyard girl” named Nicky told him the pump house was filled with metal and copper, which can be sold at recycling centers.

Cabo faces charges of second-degree burglary and malicious mischief.

Reward for tips on licensed theft suspect

Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for tips that lead to the arrest of an accused metal thief who was part of a licensed business.

Tristan M. Goiri-Christensen, 26, is wanted on a $20,000 warrant after skipping a pre-trial conference April 27. He was scheduled to begin trial Monday on theft and stolen property charges.

Goiri-Christensen is part of a band of suspected metal thieves who created a Spokane-based business, complete with licenses from the Washington Department of Revenue, to get around state laws designed to discourage theft by making it tougher for individuals to sell stolen metal to scrap yards. The state exempts licensed businesses from the mandatory 10-day waiting period for payments of over $30 on scrap metal sold to recyclers.

Goiri-Christensen and four others are accused of stealing thousands of pounds of power lines from Avista Utilities and selling the copper wire to fuel their drug habits. The stolen metal meant a massive payday in the thousands of dollars. A business license meant it came instantly. And it was easy to obtain. Read more here.

Goiri-Christensen, 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds, last gave an address in the 300 block of East Rockwell Avenue in Spokane.

Anyone with information on his current location is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online.

Thieves strip home of copper piping

Thieves stripped a near-empty north Spokane home of copper piping on Tuesday, according to the Spokane County Sheriff's Office.

A neighbor who watches the home in the area of 8700 N. Country Homes Blvd. said the home appeared normal when he left for work about 5 a.m., but when he returned about 4 p.m., the garage door would not open.

He saw several items piled on the floor. Sheriff's deputies say thieves forced their way into the home and tore copper piping from the laundry room and bathroom walls, as well as from a crawl space and from the basement ceiling. Dry wall was damaged extensively.

Another neighbor said he drove past the home about 7 a.m. and saw two men on opposite sides of the street wearing hoodies and carrying large garbage bags.

The man said he saw an older gray Ford van parked on Weipert Road that he'd never seen before. The first three digits of the license plate possibly were 730.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

Related coverage:

Dec. 23: Suspected copper thieves had business licenses
  

Wire theft knocks out power; tips sought

Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for information that led to the arrest of those responsible for a wire theft at an Avista substation that left thousands without power.

The thief or thieves cut cooper ground wires and stole portions, resulting in about $10,000 in damage.

The theft occurred about 2 a.m. Jan. 9 at the substation at 7182 N. Huetter Road. A ground wire burnt through because of short circuiting, which crews said likely scared the thief or thieves away.

The culprits “could easily have been electrocuted,” Avista crews told sheriff's deputies, according to a report.
Metal thefts cost local businesses thousands of dollars and are common because drug addicts can sell the stolen material for considerable amounts of money.

A band of alleged thieves in Spokane County even obtained legal business licenses to aid in their criminal enterprise. Read more here.

Anyone with information on the wire theft in Kootenai County is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

Potty-room pilfering reported in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A restroom rip-off in central Ohio has automatic flushers disappearing from the bathrooms at restaurants and other businesses.

Police say it's been happening in at least a couple Columbus suburbs. Investigators don't know if the thefts are related.

Handyman John Hahn tells WBNS-TV the flushers are likely being stolen for scrap because they contain a metal called red brass that can bring $2.50 per pound.

He says safeguards are needed because the flushers can be costly to repair.

Thief drops metal for witness’ cellphone

A would-be scrap metal thief ditched the material in favor of a witness' cellphone recently in Spokane Valley, police say.

Shane Wendon Israel, 33, was arrested Friday after a sheriff's deputy who investigated the robbery stopped his red Dodge truck.

Suspect Scott Hayden Elliott, 39, alias Wood, also was arrested for driving Israel away from the theft, which occurred Jan. 5 about 8:45a.m. at Ecolite, 2622 N. Woodruff Road.

Ecolite employee Pat Myers told police he saw Israel walking from the building with scrap metal, so he followed him and tried to take a picture of his truck but was assaulted and his cellphone was stolen, according to court documents. Israel grabbed Myers' cellphone and threatened him with the metal before dropping it and fleeing with the phone.

Another employee, Don Banks, snapped a photograph of the truck that included the license plate. Police say it's registered to Elliott.

Deputy R. Smith recovered Myers' cellphone from the Spokane Dog Training Club, where Israel said he'd thrown it, documents say.

Elliott and Israel faces charges of first-degree robbery and third-degree theft. Elliott also faces a charge of driving while license suspended.

Copper theft for wedding nets $18

ELLWOOD CITY, Pa. (AP) — Police say a western Pennsylvania couple desperate for money to pay for their wedding netted just $18 for the stolen copper wire they cut from more than a dozen utility poles.

North Sewickley police say 23-year-old Joseph Russell and 24-year-old April Cater cut down the wires on August 9, four days before their wedding.

Russell says he was desperate for money because he'd just lost his job and lost a $1,000 deposit after his reception hall abruptly closed down.

Sgt. Jeff Bezce says the couple clearly expected to get more money than they got from the scrap where they sold the copper.

Russell tells WPXI-TV he will pay for the damages. Utility officials say it will cost about $400 to repair the 18 poles that were damaged.

Thieves target Avista power lines

Here's a news release from Sgt. Dave Reagan:

Overhead lines that return unused power to Avista have been targeted by metal thieves since late August, a company employee reported Monday.

Since Aug. 22, a suspect has stolen more than one and a half miles of #6 copper for a loss exceeding $18,000.  The company has been replacing the stolen copper lines with aluminum wire which is less expensive.

The employee said the return cable is the lower of the two lines on the power poles and that the suspect pulls the line down and then cuts it closest to the pole.   

The thefts are risky business. Although the line is usually not powered, it can be at any time and the thief would have no way of knowing if it is charged or not.

The most recent theft occurred Monday in the 20600 block of North Hazard Road.  Crews had just replaced the line at midnight and it was discovered missing again at 6 a.m.

Anyone with information regarding these thefts is encouraged to call Crime Check at 456-2233.