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Copper thieves hit 14 vacant houses in Alle-Kiski Valley

| Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, 12:17 a.m.

Copper thieves have struck at 14 vacant houses again in several Alle-Kiski Valley towns, police said, sometimes at homes that have a “for sale” sign in the yard and even during the daytime.

• West Deer Police Chief Jon Lape said officers are investigating copper thefts in nine houses in the past six weeks.

• In recent weeks, copper pipe or wiring has been taken from unoccupied houses along Alcoa Drive and Woodmont Avenue, Arnold police Chief Willie Weber said.

• And they've hit three times in Fawn Township, including once at a metals business and at two vacant houses.

Police are trying to determine whether the same thieves are involved.

In any case, there are similarities in some of the incidents:

• Some of the West Deer houses had for sale signs in the yard, just like the two houses in Fawn, police said.

• In two instances, a handful of the properties were located along the same road.

All three of the copper thefts in Fawn occurred along Howes Run Road.

In West Deer, four of the houses are along Millerstown-Culmerville Road, but they aren't close together.

Other houses were along Bailies Run, East Union and McKrell roads, McArthur Drive and Saxonburg Boulevard.

• Most of the houses targeted in West Deer aren't close to the road, and it is almost impossible for passersby to see anything occurring outside the houses, Chief Lape said.

• “Some are happening in the middle of the day,” said Weber, Arnold's chief. “We need people to call us right away when they see something suspicious.”

Were thieves watching?

The copper theft has upset a family's plans to sell a house in Fawn.

“I'm so angry,” Suzanne Buday said.

Buday, of South Buffalo, and her brother have been preparing to sell their mother's house. But those plans must now include replacing thousands of dollars of copper pipe.

Buday thinks the thieves put in time to watch her mother's house before finding a way inside on Nov. 3, a Saturday.“Were they watching the house?” Buday said. “My brother stays there five days a week. They waited until he left. They must have been watching.They went in right after he left and he found the loss 2½ hours later,” she said.“They took all the pipe from the house,” she said. “They even went into a crawl space to get pipe.”

Fawn police Chief Tim Mayberry said the thieves also took some medicine, cartons of water and soft drinks and clothing from that house.

Last week, someone entered another Fawn house but quickly left when they found someone was inside, Mayberry said.

That house has been sold and a man is planning to move in.

Ongoing problem

The thefts aren't the first in the Valley and they won't be the last.

Last fall, about a dozen vacant Harrison houses were targeted for copper thefts.

“This has been going on for decades,” said Gary Bush, a retired police officer and ISRI investigator.

The Washington, D.C.-based ISRI sponsors an email alert network telling scrap companies and police about thefts. Scrap companies were getting about $3.42 a pound for copper last week, said William Johnson, spokesman for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc.

Those who sell scrap to scrap yards get about $2 a pound, he said.•“Especially with the economy as it is, we don't see this slowing down any time soon,” Johnson said.

“We encourage cooperation between scrap yard owners and law enforcement,” he said. “Legitimate scrap yard owners don't want to buy stolen goods.”

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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