City loses $15K worth of materials to theft

Published 12:07 am Thursday, November 24, 2011

Natchez — A Natchez man has been charged with reportedly stealing metal items belonging to the City of Natchez, but police believe the man could be responsible for other recent metal thefts.

Natchez Interim Police Chief Danny White said Jeromy D. Stewart, 30, 1006 N. Union St., was charged Wednesday with two counts of grand larceny. Stewart reportedly stole 13 city drainage tops last week from along Zoa Lane and three from Madison Street.

More charges are pending against Stewart, White said, for allegedly stealing three six-foot steel beams and a manhole cover from a Natchez Water Works job site on Old Washington Road.

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Police were able to apprehend Stewart after calling various scrap metal businesses in the area.

White said Pac Man Auto Crushers in Vidalia purchased the drainage tops from Stewart and took his photograph and got his personal information, which White said is a standard practice for most scrap metal businesses.

Police recovered some of the drainage tops, but White said he is unsure if all of them were recovered.

Natchez City Engineer David Gardner said the city has taken a hard hit because of metal theft. He said thieves have stolen at least $15,000 worth of materials stolen in the last six months.

Gardner said approximately $10,000 in metal items have stolen in the past month, Gardner said. He said he regularly receives reports from employees about metal theft.

“Every two or three days I get some report on something we have that has been stolen,” Gardner said. “It’s almost epidemic.”

Gardner said the thieves have taken water meters, copper generator wire, water pipes and various other metal items.

Gardner said he hopes people exercise common sense and do not purchase metal they believe is stolen.

“I would hope that if someone came to you with a drainage top or something that said ‘City of Natchez’ on it, you wouldn’t buy it.”

Gardner said the city is not equipped to deal with the cost and labor of packing up all materials on all the various job sites each day.

“It’s going to put a tremendous hardship on the city,” Gardner said.

Mayor Jake Middleton said packing up materials and shutting down the job sites could end up costing the city more money than the thefts.

Middleton said cameras have been installed at various sites around the city, and he hopes people report any suspicious activity they see at the sites.

Gardner said he has asked police to help monitor the job sites.

White said he has already beefed up nighttime patrol but is having all patrolman who are not responding to calls at night check buildings and be on the lookout for metal thieves.

“We’ve been beefing up patrol and, hopefully we can deter (metal thieves), and let them know that we’re out there and watching.”

White said Stewart is being held without bond and is being questioned in connection with the theft of air conditioning units from Natchez Little Theatre on Friday night and Southern Style Restaurant and Catering and Winn Pharmacy on Pilgrim Boulevard on Nov. 14.

White said he believes Stewart did not act alone, but it could be difficult to charge Stewart with the theft of the units because thieves typically take the units apart and then crush them, thus destroying serial numbers on the units.