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Thefts of metal up dramatically in W. Kentucky

PADUCAH — Old fence posts, copper wire and any kind of iron — all precious commodities to someone looking to make a few extra bucks.

The London Metal Exchange, a stock market for metals, is currently seeing highs for the prices of various metals. Copper brings about $4 a pound and aluminum between $1 and $2 a pound.

Sheriff's departments in Western Kentucky report that thefts of scrap metal continue to rise. McCracken County Sheriff Jon Hayden has seen scrap metal thefts increase 80 percent in the past year. The most common theft, Hayden said, is metal from people's own homes. Often homeowners were stockpiling the metal to sell themselves. ”If the economy worsens and metals stay high,“ Hayden said, ”this is going to continue.“

Theft is a problem Ronnie Fiessinger, owner of G&R body shop in Kevil, runs into often. Fiessinger said his shop stores aluminum parts from wrecked cars behind his shop and takes the pile to a scrap yard once a year. But recently, Fiessinger has come to work to find the pile gone. Fiessinger said he doesn't report the thefts anymore, since earlier thieves weren't caught.

Calloway County Sheriff Bill Marcum said scrap metal thefts are up more than 50 percent in his county. Marcum said men and women of all ages steal plow pieces, fence posts and anything sitting outside a barn. Marcum said occasionally his department will get a call about a mobile home with the metal siding removed.

Marcum said his department works with local scrap yards to help find the thieves, but there is no easy way to stop the problem.

Hickman County Sheriff John Turner has the same problem, with metal thefts up 50 percent. Turner said that any empty home — old or new — can be pillaged. Turner seeks more help from metal shops and scrap yards to help in identifying thieves. ”I just tell people to keep their things locked up now,“ he added.

In Carlisle County, thefts have been a problem for more than a year, Sheriff Steve McChristian said. His department will now pull over vehicles hauling junk, just to check whether the metal is stolen. McChristian said scrap yards and shops used to send him pictures of people selling metal, and he welcomed such help. People are taking loads every week for what he referred to as ”spending money,“ he added.

Thefts in Graves County have doubled, Chief Deputy Dewayne Redmon of the Graves County Sheriff's Department said. ”People will drive up to vacant houses and steal stoves and all the copper out of the heating systems,“ Redmon said. ”It's so easy to get.“ Redmon said the department has made a few arrests, but that thefts are hard to trace.

Some areas haven't seen an increase in scrap metal thefts, sheriffs said. Fulton, Marshall and Ballard counties have found different ways to avoid what Fulton County Sheriff Bobby Hopper called an epidemic. ”I'm surprised, but we've been lucky,“ Hopper said. ”We've only had one or two thefts recently.“

Marshall County Deputy Sheriff Matt Hilbrecht said the department handles four or five cases a year. Hilbrecht cited the cooperation of scrap metal yards as a key in fighting the problem.

In Ballard County, Sheriff Todd Cooper said that arrests made in the past year reduced the thefts. One person was sent to prison for three years, and Cooper said that has stopped such thefts.

A state law that went into effect recently requires metal dealers to log all purchases on a state form. The form lists the seller's name, address, information about the vehicle used to transport the metal, proof of identity and details about the transaction.

David Crowell, plant manager for River Metals Recycling in Paducah, said the new law isn't weighing down his company with more paperwork. Crowell said that River Metals and other scrap yards have had the photography and data systems in place for over a year.

”A few years ago you had to pay people to haul your old metal off,“ Hayden said. ”Now, you have to keep it under lock and key.“