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2 arrested in attempted copper wire theft

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An early Monday morning incident near Elizabethtown is that latest in a trend of thefts of metal from remote Bartholomew County farms, police said.

Two men from northwest Jennings County were caught stealing copper wiring from an irrigation system at a Sandcreek Township farm, according to the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

Ernie Thompson, 37, of 5370 N. County Road 900W, and Francis Loper, 39, of 5775 N. Blossom Drive, both of Scipio, were arrested on charges of theft, a Class D felony and criminal mischief, a Class B misdemeanor.

At 12:10 a.m., two officers from the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department were sent to a farm a short distance southwest of Elizabethtown after the land owner reported what was described a theft in progress, according to Deputy Sheriff Maj. Todd Noblitt.

After Deputies Jessica Pendleton and Chase Kittinger arrived at the farm near the intersection of County Roads 600S and 340E, the farmer told them he believed one or more thieves were trying to steal copper wire from his field, Noblitt said.

As Pendleton began walking south to look for suspects and damages, Kittinger spotted two men running out of the field, Noblitt said. Both suspects were apprehended without incident, and the officers discovered they had a unspecified but significant amount of copper wire, he added. The deputies later discovered costly damages to several irrigation system motors, Noblitt said.

Stealing copper for scrap has become a growing problem in recent years, according to Noblitt. Due to a tight global supply, U.S. copper prices rose steadily over a three-year period beginning in 2009, according to an April 22 article in the Wall Street Journal. But after reaching a high of $3.97 a pound in February 2012, copper prices had dropped to $3.16 at the end of last week, according to the article.

“We have seen a significant increase in (similar) thefts from irrigation units the last few years,” Nobllitt said.

“Not only do these thefts prevent farmers from getting their work done on schedule, but the victims also find themselves stuck with costly repair bills.”

As of Monday morning, both Thompson and Loper were incarcerated in the Bartholomew County Jail in lieu of $10,000 bond.

Formal charges, if any, will be determined by Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash.

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