Investigators believe the thefts could have kept many residents in Richmond County from staying cool, but now a Hephzibah man is the one in the hot seat.
The man, who is accused of causing about $50,000 worth of damage to air conditioning units across the county, was arrested by Richmond County sheriff's deputies Monday at the Red Carpet Inn, 2050 Gordon Highway.
James Howard Carpenter, 25, is charged with four felony counts and one misdemeanor count of theft by taking more than $500, according to Richmond County sheriff's Lt. Tony Walden. He is accused of removing copper wiring from air conditioning units and reselling it to area recycling centers.
"It's just been an ongoing problem for us," Lt. Walden said. "It has virtually plagued Richmond County over the last couple of months."
The incidents date back as far as Dec. 18 and include thefts from churches, banks, businesses and homes. Mr. Carpenter is charged with three thefts from several vacant homes on Hilson Road in Hephzibah on Feb. 1 and two from Georgia Bank and Trust on Walton Way Extension on Friday, Lt. Walden said. He also faces indictment on nine other copper thefts over the past three months.
Both Mr. Carpenter and his twin brother, Dallas Carpenter, are on felony probation on charges of stealing copper in May of last year and are awaiting trial, Lt. Walden said. Dallas Carpenter currently is serving an unrelated sentence at the Emanuel Probation Detention Center in Twin City, Ga.
Investigators were able to pin down the suspect based on a witness who claimed to see an extremely tall man outside the homes on Hilson Road, Lt. Walden said. Because Mr. Carpenter, who stands 6 feet 10 inches tall, and his brother were arrested on similar charges, investigators sought them out for questioning, he said.
"What stood out on him (the suspect) was his height," Lt. Walden said.
Aiken and Edgefield counties had their own rash of copper thefts in January that have yet to be solved, according to Aiken County sheriff's spokesman Lt. Michael Frank. Investigators from the Richmond County Sheriff's Office plan to meet with South Carolina authorities soon to discuss the case, Lt. Walden said.
Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copper wiring can be a lucrative business for thieves, but it takes some work. Most air conditioning units contain only small amounts of the material, Lt. Tony Walden said. John Schweitzer, manager of Augusta Steel Metal Co. on Gordon Highway, said the suspect had sold copper to his business several times. He said the going rate for copper can vary from $1.30 to $1.55 a pound depending on its purity. The highest rate of copper, called barebright, can fetch $1.65 a pound, he said.