Richland County deputies stopped a nighttime copper theft at a Blythewood house under construction and confiscated the thieves’ car, which was full of copper, according to Sheriff Leon Lott.
Officers now hold the suspects’ car, a white 1995 Chevrolet Corsica, while they search for the two thieves.
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One suspect in the case has been identified as Matthew Alan Shirley, 22, a sheriff’s department spokesman said, and the car belongs to one of Shirley’s relatives. Shirley is wanted on burglary/breaking and entering.
The action took place about 2:45 a.m. Tuesday at a partially-built house on Hawkins Creek Road in Blythewood when deputies on patrol noticed the Chevrolet Corsica parked outside the house.
As officers approached the house, said Lott, two men inside fled by jumping out of a second-story window.
Already, the suspects had caused about $3,000 in damage to an air conditioning unit in the house, Lott said.
The copper found in the vehicle was copper tubing “that appeared to have been stolen from other air-conditioning units, Lott said.
Copper thefts are on the rise in the Midlands and throughout the state.
In 2009, Richland County had 367 reported cases of copper and air conditioning thefts. In 2010, that number rose to 501. Homes, businesses and churches are prime targets.
Prices of copper, a commodity metal, rise and fall. Currently, copper prices are at a high level. Thieves steal the copper and resell it to scrap metal dealers.
Victims of copper thefts, including numerous churches, have asked the state legislature to make it harder for thieves to resell copper. But so far, the legislature hasn’t acted.
“As long as increased demand and prices remain high, it will be a problem,” said Lott.
Lott urged residents to install security cameras, post “no trespassing” signs and put up fencing or caging around air conditioning and other machines that contain copper.