Thieves take metal from Isle of Wight churches

Published 10:36 am Friday, December 20, 2013

IVOR—Sheila Epperley recalls discovering the theft of the heating and air conditioning unit at her church, Mill Swamp Baptist in Ivor.

“It was on [Sunday] Dec. 1. My husband and I parked in the back where the unit is,” said Epperley. “He looked and said out loud, ‘Where’s the air conditioner?’ We immediately called the police.”

The couple learned from them that Mill Swamp was the third church that week reporting theft. Union Bethel AME Church in Smithfield, for example, also lost its HVAC unit to thieves. She mentioned hearing that three churches in Surry County have also been the targets of thieves.

Sometime on Dec. 12-13, copper drainpipes were stolen from historic St. Luke’s Church in the neighboring Benns Church area. A St. Luke’s employee said the drainpipes are worth approximately $12,000.

Epperley, who serves as a ministry assistant at Mill Swamp, estimated the HVAC unit at $7,000.

That incident was the first the church has experienced, and she hopes it will be the last.

“It’s sad to us that people are in such financial difficulties they’re forced to do that,” said Epperley. “It would have been easier for the church to help them. But that’s not the route they chose to take.”

On Thursday, spokeswoman Kristen Wilda of the Isle of Wight Sheriff’s Office sent out a press release informing media that thieves have been striking churches for whatever metal can be found and sold for scrap.

The thefts appear to be happening in the early evening or night hours, and all three cases are being investigated.

“Scrap metal theft and subsequent sale to scrap dealers is a longstanding regional problem,” stated Wilda, adding that existing state code requires scrap dealers to report sellers to their local law enforcement agency.

“Most scrap dealers are genuine, honest business owners and comply with the law as it is written. The problem exists in the reporting requirements for identification of the items sold,” she stated. “One could sell a pile of genuine metal garbage. Others sell obviously new copper piping, a clearly disassembled HVAC unit, or in our recent case, a very unique custom-made copper drainage system. In any event, the report to law enforcement usually says “scrap metal” and nothing more. There is no further reporting requirement.”

Western Tidewater residents are asked that if they know who the thieves are, or could identify scrap metal dealers that knowingly buy stolen property, they’re to call the Crime Line at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP.