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School funds take another hit, from thieves

Local schools are losing more than $23,000 in stolen copper and gas
By: Lien Hoang, The Press Tribune
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Add this to the list of grievances schools face in a time of recession and budget trimming: copper and gasoline theft. Area schools are reporting more than $23,000 in damages from stolen copper and gas. So far police have arrested one man, a 21-year-old from Sacramento, on suspicion of siphoning gas and possessing burglar’s tools. The arrest happened early on the morning of July 27 at Oakmont High School. But the bulk of the loss comes from plundered copper. On Monday, Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District released a surveillance video of a suspect wanted for $6,500 in copper damage. The man is seen entering Antelope Meadows Elementary School on Aug. 8. Gordon Medd, the district’s assistant superintendent, said the man probably had an accomplice, and they handled the hot wires expertly, knowing where to snip and pull. “I can assure you, they know exactly what they’re doing,” Medd said. He added that this crime is common – but usually on construction sites, where electrical wiring lies exposed in half-built houses. But with few new housing developments in the market downturn, he believes thieves are turning to another source: schools. They target portable classrooms, where copper wiring is easier to access than permanent buildings. They can sell the material to metal recyclers, but Medd said it’s more likely, and more profitable, to reuse the copper on a new construction project. Oakmont, which also lost $8,000 in copper theft and related damages, has seen a spike in fuel siphoning in the past month, usually from school vans. But last week, one bandit went after a school bus, according to Brian Gruchow, who oversees transportation at Roseville Joint Union High School District. He said a driver, while trying to refuel, noticed gas flowing from under the bus. That’s when the severed filler tube was spotted. “We’re fortunate to discover that,” Gruchow said. “We could have been driving down the road with a trail of gas, there could have been a serious problem.” He wasn’t sure why more people were stealing from the district now, but pointed out that a hurting economy often leads to increased theft. Roseville Police are offering a $1,000 reward for tips on the thefts, and working with the school districts to catch the perpetrators. Residents can call 1-800-782-7463. “These aren’t vandals, these are criminals,” Medd said. Lien Hoang can be reached at lienh@goldcountrymedia.com.