LELAND, NC - (WECT) - A spike in copper thefts in Brunswick County hits several Leland construction sites including the new Town Hall building.
"We've noticed a dramatic increase in copper thefts," said Chief Mike James. James says they've had around 30 thefts in the past three weeks, with 12 in one weekend.
"These salvage yards pay big money for copper right now, so people are stealing it, they are taking it to salvage yards and they are selling it," said James. It's not just from homes under construction, contractors at the Leland Town Hall also reported stolen copper pipe.
While they thefts may seem small, builders say it adds up. "They might get 50 dollars out of a house but it will cost thousands of dollars to replace," said Phillip Sykes, a project manager on a home under construction. He says depending on where the wire is cut, even if its just 2 feet, the entire line has to be replaced which could cost hundreds or thousands of dollars and time. He hasn't been robbed recently, but says he was robbed two months ago and then about two years ago.
"When you lose time and have to come back and rewire a house, it's not just expense and the labor, its the time you lose. It impacts you in a lot of ways to have a copper theft," said Sykes.
Leland Police made an arrest Saturday in connection to the recent thefts. David Wayne Smith Jr. was arrested on Saturday and charged with three counts of Felony Larceny from a Permitted Construction site. Those felonies occurred in homes under construction in the Brunswick Forest community. Since the arrest, police say Smith confessed to more of the crimes, but not all.
"We are still investigating, we haven't cleared up all of the cases, we've had witnesses describe other cars so we are looking into that too," said James. He also says that Smith confessed to some copper thefts in Wilmington.
Additionally, Chief James says they will be increasing patrols in neighborhoods with homes under construction and at the new town hall site.
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