Sequim police: Copper thefts from vacant homes likely related
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Thelma Durham
Copper tubing was ripped from a wall near a water conditioner at a house on Washington Harbor Loop in Sequim earlier this month.

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM — Police are investigating thefts of copper wiring and pipes from two vacant homes as related because they are so similar, said Sequim Detective Sgt. Sean Madison.

Copper wiring and piping were ripped off the walls of homes in the 1300 block of East Washington Street and on Washington Harbor Loop, less than a mile away from each other.

The Washington Street home was reported to have been burglarized Sept. 1, a day after the Harbor Loop burglary was discovered.

That home, which also was vacant, experienced significant water damage after copper piping was stolen.

In both houses, drywall was ripped from the walls to access copper wiring and piping, Madison said, though the Washington Loop house experienced much more serious damage because of a flooded basement.

Madison said police do not yet have estimates on how much damage was done or how much copper was stolen.

Following leads

Investigators are continuing to follow leads in both cases, Madison said, adding that he plans to send out notice to real estate companies in the area to regularly check homes for sale that are unoccupied.

“We're looking into these things. We have some leads,” Madison said.

“But we're trying to take a proactive step and let the realty companies know.”

The Washington Loop home is bank-owned and managed by Windermere Real Estate Port Angeles, while Madison said the Washington Street house recently had been taken off the market and was not being managed by a realty company.

Peninsulawide issue

Interviews with law enforcement agencies show metal theft to have been more commonly reported recently in Clallam County than Jefferson County, though all agencies have dealt with it.

Joe Nole, chief criminal deputy with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, said theft of aluminum siding from vacant mobile homes was an issue three to four years ago, though that problem has died down.

Most commonly, Nole said, deputies get calls about metal stolen from unguarded construction sites, adding that he had not heard of thefts of copper wire and pipe like those reported in Sequim.

“Hopefully, that's not a shade of things to come,” Nole said.

Port Townsend police

Michael Evans, deputy Port Townsend police chief, said his officers have not investigated metal thefts recently, though he described it as “definitely a regional issue.”

“We've had [thieves] going into areas that would be trespassing and burglary to steal stuff, but I just don't know of anything recent,” Evans said, adding that this includes construction sites and even a Jefferson County Public Utility District substation.

Ron Cameron, chief criminal deputy for the Clallam County Sheriff's Office, said his deputies have seen a small spike in metal thefts recently, along with a general increase in burglary and other property crime since about Aug. 1.

Stolen copper likely is sold as salvage, Cameron said in July.

Brian Smith, Port Angeles deputy police chief, said his officers as recently as two months ago investigated a theft of copper from a substation owned by the city.

However, Smith said he could not think of recent commercial or residential thefts similar to the Sequim house thefts.

Smith said the common factor in most metal thefts is a relatively easily accessible area, such as a construction site, and valuable metals like copper sitting unguarded.

'It's an opportunity'

“There's copper, there's nobody there, it's an opportunity,” Smith said.

On the West End, Forks police have not seen specific increase in metal theft, Forks Police Administrator Rick Bart said.

“[It's] nothing really new,” Bart said. “It's been going on for quite a while.”

Police historically have investigated thefts of raw metal from construction sites and even thefts of tools from personal garages, though not from vacant homes.

“We haven't had that yet,” Bart said.

Anyone with information about the Sequim copper thefts is asked to phone the Police Department at 360-683-7227.

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

Last modified: September 07. 2013 4:55PM
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