Archived Story

Suspects arrested in SMART warehouse theft

Published 6:00pm Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A months-long investigation into local copper thefts has finally borne fruit in the form of two arrests.
Adrian Dewayne Burnett, 33, and an unnamed juvenile accomplice were both arrested and charged with first-degree burglary and first-degree theft of property after breaking into an off-site SMART warehouse and removing copper and various metals from obsolete equipment.
SMART general manager Gary Sport said that it was one specific incident that led to the realization that the thefts had been an ongoing process for a couple of weeks.
“A couple of our guys went over to get something and someone was in the warehouse, and they ran,” Sport said.
“The police contacted us on Friday and they had gotten word that there was something going on over there, and we got our heads together with the city police and we realized that we’ve got a problem.”
Sport added that it would’ve been a difficult crime to see on the surface, due to the fact that SMART employees often take parts from the obsolete machines themselves.
But once they’d become aware of the thefts and started looking, it became very obvious that the copper thieves had been operating for a number of weeks.
However, it was thanks to local recycling facilities in Crenshaw County and the surrounding areas that the connection was ever made in the first place.
“The way they caught this is that the people that were doing this were selling it at a couple of recycling places in neighboring communities, and one of them called because one of the parts they were selling was a little high tech and he was like ‘I don’t know what this guy would be doing with this,’ so he called the city police here in Luverne,” Sport said.
“When they picked up the part and brought it to us and asked if we knew what it was and we said that it had come off one of our robots.  So that’s how we tied it all together.”
According to Sport, the incident dwarfs previous petty thefts as the largest amount of theft that the company has seen in recent years.
Major David Sankey, assistant chief and lead officer on the investigation, said that it was almost impossible to ascertain the value of the copper stolen, but he’s certain of one thing—it’s a tremendous amount.
“We saw that a lot of the robots that they used up at the plant were severely damaged by cutting the wiring and copper out of the machines, and I was just informed by them that the approximate cost of one of those robots is about $25,000,” Sankey said.
“Not only was that equipment vandalized, but all of the AC units in the front of the building were also vandalized because all of the copper in them was ripped out.  This is something that could easily reach half a million to a million dollars, no problem at all.”
Sankey, who has followed a spree of thefts since late May, added that copper theft has become an increasing problem in recent years, with a number of local facilities being vandalized in recent months.
A lead on a theft at a recycling place in Brantley is what inevitably led to the suspects’ arrest.
Unfortunately, Sankey sees it as a growing problem that isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
“It’s reported with more frequency out in the county, but this time it hit at home,” Sankey said.
“It’s something that we take very seriously.”

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