3 arrested in Madera manhole cover theft

Recycler reports attempt of sale to sheriff's office

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 31, 2013 

— Three Planada residents were arrested this week in Madera County on suspicion of trying to sell stolen manhole covers, authorities reported Thursday.

Dorothy Jane Alt, 19, Joy Dawn McKay, 37, and Issac Gonzalez, 30, visited a Madera County metal recycler and tried to sell the manhole covers, said Erica Stuart, public information officer for the Madera County Sheriff's Office.

The recycler reported the attempted sale to Detective Adam McEwen, who specializes in agricultural crimes.

The recycler said two women came into his business about 1 p.m. Wednesday, Stuart said, and a man was sitting in a car parked outside the business.

When McEwen arrived, the three told him they found the covers at a former labor camp in Planada, Stuart said. The camp, which is owned by Merced County, has had trouble with metal theft previously, Stuart said.

McEwen learned the three suspects didn't have authorization to be on the Merced County property and weren't given permission to take items from the site.

He then called the Merced County Sheriff's Department to find out if any recent thefts from the camp had been reported, Stuart said. McEwen was told copper wire and steel manhole covers been stolen that morning, Stuart said.

After searching the suspects' car, McEwen found a steel pry bar, pipe wrench, tin snips and other tools commonly used to remove manhole covers and wire, Stuart said.

Deputy Tom MacKenzie, Merced sheriff's spokesman, said the county will soon demolish the labor camp on Plainsburg Road. Until then, the sheriff's office will increase patrols in the area.

All three suspects were booked at the Madera County Department of Corrections and could be charged with felonies, Stuart said. Bail was set at $10,000 each.

Law enforcement agencies in valley counties have reported spikes in thefts of metal and other recyclable materials since the economic downturn. Park equipment, government buildings, ag operations and other businesses have been vandalized by people hoping to sell metal for recycling.

In Stanislaus County, scores of individuals dismantled a vacant manufacturing plant in north Modesto after it shut down and the property underwent foreclosure.

Stanislaus officials didn't get control of the property until most of the building was taken apart by unauthorized dismantlers. The county subsequently cleared the site of the remaining debris. Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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