The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


September 20, 2012

Two men charged with stealing copper from Watsontown railroad crossing

WATSONTOWN — Two men have been charged with attempted theft after gathering 200 pounds of copper in their car, borough police said.

Dennis E. Drass, 48, and Robert E. Palmer, 42, both of White Deer, were charged with criminal attempt to commit theft after a witness saw them taking copper wire from the railroad tracks at the Main Street crossing in Watsontown.

Railroad lines are becoming an increasingly popular target for copper thieves, who steal wire connected to rail signals.

The witness yelled at Drass and Palmer to replace the copper, and the pair threw the wire out of their car before fleeing the scene, police said.

Police tracked down Drass and Palmer, who admitted to taking the copper, but said they thought it was scrap metal. Officers recovered about 200 pounds of copper from the scene, valued at a local recycling center at $246, police said.

Both men “have extensive histories of theft and related offenses,” according to police.

This is one of several copper theft cases in the Valley recently.

Last week, Nicholas Norman, 35, of Route 642, Milton, was charged with burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, criminal trespass, risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, receiving stolen property and theft following a July incident at 608 Lincoln St. in Milton.

According to police, Dennis Russell, 41, also of Milton, admitted to breaking into the Lincoln Street home and stripping it of more than $1,000 worth of copper pipes. Russell told police Norman helped him “cash in” the pipes at a Williamsport recycling center.

Russell also admitted to several other July copper thefts in the Lewisburg area involving houses primarily rented to Bucknell University students, officers said.

Copper is a frequent target of thieves because it is valuable and abundant, said Cpl. Wade Danley, of Watsontown police.

It’s also easier to transport than heavy metals like steel.

To prevent copper thieves from striking, homeowners should take regular precautions against burglars in their homes, Danley said.

But for outside metal fixtures, “There’s not a whole lot you can do,” he said.

“Just be vigilant around your property and your neighbors’ property,” Danley said. “If you do see someone messing with the wires, make sure it’s a legitimate contractor.”

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