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Crime stinks, really

NATCHEZ — Atmos Energy manager Andrew Calvit spent a good part of Monday hunting down a smelly culprit.

But unlike most of Atmos’ service calls, this culprit wasn’t underground.

Calvit said the gas smell that alarmed many people around Natchez and Vidalia, and even stretched to the outskirts of Ferriday, was a stolen odor tank and not a gas leak.

The stolen tank contained a harmless substance that mixes with odorless natural gas to give it a recognizable smell.

“The person stole the tank from our station (near International Paper) at our gathering station,” Calvit said. “It was an abandoned tank that was waiting to be shipped back, and he apparently decided he was going to steal it and sell it.”

Wharlest Jackson Jr., 52, 9 Matthew St., was arrested by the Adams County Sheriff’s Office and changed with grand larceny for stealing 12-feet of high pressure gas pipe that was the property of Atmos Energy.

Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said the property was valued at more than $500.

“The investigation is continuing and there could be more arrests and more charges,” Mayfield said.

Jackson is detained without bond until he is arraigned today, Mayfield said.

City Engineer David Gardner said the Natchez Fire Department investigated the smell of natural gas but concluded that there was no gas leaking.

When the tank was moved from it’s resting place in the county and transported across the bridge to a scrap metal buyer off U.S. 84 between Vidalia and Ferriday, the odor followed, alerting people along the way.

Calvit said he expected the person who stole the tank was going to try to sell it. Calvit sent notification to the expected buyer not to purchase the tank.

Calvit said when the truck carrying the stolen tank returned to Mississippi it was found on Brenham Avenue by Natchez Police Department officers. Calvit identified the tank, and it was returned to his possession.

NPD held the suspect until he was arrested by the Adams County Sheriff Office.

Once the tank was back in proper hands, the solution causing the stink was diluted so it could be transported back to the Atmos station.

“We wanted to get it where it wouldn’t be too noticeable when we drove it back through town,” Calvit said.

But even more than just the worry of chasing down the missing tank, Calvit said the smell of gas created alarm among many Atmos customers, who called in concerns. Technicians spent most of the afternoon responding to calls.

“Every call about a leak is an emergency,” Calvit said. “Whether it is in the air, in a house or in a business, we have to go and check out every call.”

Gardner said while Monday’s situation was not a dangerous one, it can have consequences down the road.

He said if Monday’s situation were to replay, people could become complacent and not react to the smell of natural gas.

“You don’t want to undermine people’s response,” Gardner said.

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