Five charged with copper theft

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 3, 2008

NORFOLK—Five people have been charged with stealing thousands of dollars worth of copper grounding bars from more than 100 cellular towers throughout Hampton Roads, including some in Southampton and Isle of Wight counties.

According to a press release from the United States Attorney’s Office, the defendants stole copper grounding bars and copper wiring from cellular telephone towers and then sold the stolen copper to local salvage dealers.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Norfolk and the Norfolk Field Office of the FBI announced on Wednesday that the suspects were indicted on one count each of conspiracy and 11 counts each of malicious destruction of communication lines.

Those named in the indictment included three Suffolk residents, Keith Arlan Pickens, 32, Heather Maureen Yerigan, 27, and Sarah Jo Carr, 25; along with Dale C. Merrill, 36, of Chesapeake, and Marina Bernadette Long, 34, of Virginia Beach.

The press release states that the defendants &uot;entered over 100 cellular tower sites located in 17 different jurisdictions in the Eastern District of Virginia and eastern North Carolina.&uot;

Once inside the tower sites, law enforcement officers allege, the suspects &uot;forcibly removed the copper grounding bars and copper wiring, thereby injuring the tower sites and telephone equipment, and potentially impairing cellular communications systems in the affected areas.&uot;

The damage caused was estimated at about $270,000.

The suspects face a maximum of five years each for the conspiracy charge and 10 years for each of the other counts.

The Norfolk FBI office handled the investigation, with help from local police officers in Chesapeake, Hampton, Isle of Wight, James City County, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Southampton, Suffolk, Surry, Sussex, Virginia Beach, Williamsburg and York County in Virginia, as well as Camden and Currituck in North Carolina.