Sequim police investigate copper theft from empty house
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Thelma Durham
Copper thieves struck an unoccupied bank-owned home in Sequim over the weekend, stealing copper piping, wire and other parts of the house’s electrical system. The hole where the house’s circuit breaker box was once mounted is pictured here.

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM — Investigators are looking into the theft of copper wiring and piping that flooded a basement and severely damaged the interior of a vacant bank-owned home in Sequim.

Sequim Police Chief Bill Dickinson said Thursday the investigation is ongoing and that he did not know of any specific leads or information found since the theft was discovered over the weekend.

“It's not an unusual occurrence to have metal theft, but this is a little bit different because someone broke into an existing home,” Dickinson said.

He said police don't know if the house was broken into specifically to steal copper wiring and piping or if it initially was burglarized for another purpose.

Thelma Durham, the Windermere Real Estate Port Angeles broker for the house on Washington Harbor Loop in Sequim, found the damage done to the home on Saturday, said Durham's assistant, Sue Weatherbee.

Weatherbee said a passer-by looking into the home saw that the daylight basement, accessible through its own door on the ground floor, appeared to be filled with several inches of water and called Durham to report it.

Water on floor

Durham arrived to find at least 1 feet of water on the basement floor, released after a water conditioning unit had been ripped out of the wall and its copper piping taken, Weatherbee said.

Some of the house's drywall had been cut open and copper wiring stolen, Weatherbee said, in addition to the home's circuit breaker box being ripped completely out of the wall.

“We do know they cut through live 220-volt line to rip out one of the electrical panels,” Weatherbee said.

“So that's kind of got us stumped a little bit.”

The real estate agency does not yet have an estimate on how much copper was stolen or what it would cost to repair the house, Weatherbee added.

Weatherbee said this incident is the first time one of the between 25 and 30 bank-owned properties Windermere Real Estate Port Angeles manages in Clallam and Jefferson counties has had copper stolen from its walls.

According to data from www.RealtyTrac.com, there are 152 bank-owned homes for sale in Clallam County and 54 in Jefferson County.

'Ongoing thing'

Dickinson said metal theft is “an ongoing thing” with Sequim police.

“It's been going on for a long time,” he said. “It's not a new thing.”

Metal usually is reported stolen from construction sites left unguarded, Dickinson said, although he added that unoccupied homes also represent an opportunity for metal thieves.

“In this case, they found a source of potential income there by removing metal they knew they could sell,” Dickinson said.

Thefts from active telephone poles and other utility infrastructure also have been reported, he said.

When suspected metal thieves are arrested, Dickinson said the most common driver for the theft is to feed a drug habit of some type.

Scrap shops that buy metal for cash are supposed to report what they buy but do not always do so, Dickinson said.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 05. 2013 5:44PM
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