Scrap thieves are certainly among the dimmest lights in the pantheon of petty crooks.
We have seen them defile cemeteries for a few pounds of bronze. Destroy sculpture thinking a scrap dealer wouldn’t recognize a hand as a piece of art. Electrocute themselves cutting into a high-voltage copper line. And spark explosions that destroy homes and endanger neighborhoods while stripping natural gas lines.
All of these things have been reported multiple times — and not just in newspapers, which we’re kind of hoping people stupid enough to disconnect a functioning gas line don’t read — but on television and radio. And if there’s a pantheon of thieves, don’t they ever talk to each other about the best and worst practices of their craft?
We can only assume not, because last week in Austintown there was another near disaster when a home at 2196 S. Turner Road exploded as the result of thieves breaking a gas line while stealing scrap.
The house valued at about $80,000 was destroyed, but it could have been worse.
In 2008, a similar explosion in Girard destroyed two houses, damaged 50 others and injured four people. A man arrested in that case was sentenced to four years in prison.
Scrap thieves apparently have a strange sense of value. Because they are stealing something that they intend to sell as junk, they don’t see that it has any greater value to anyone else. Thus houses are stripped for pennies on the dollar, art is treated as trash and grave markers get no more respect from this vermin than fireplugs get from dogs.
The bright side of all this is that fewer of these thieves are getting away, thanks in large part to new Ohio laws regulating the sale of scrap and the efforts of reputable scrap dealers to live within the law.
Already arrests have been made in the Austintown case, and a man and woman have been indicted on multiple charges of arson, burglary, possession of criminal tools and obstructing justice.
If convicted, they’ll be kept out of the basements of other people’s homes for a long time.
And maybe, with yet another high profile case in the news, other would-be burglars and thieves will realize that stealing scrap doesn’t pay.
Perhaps what’s needed is an ad campaign such as that used to remind people that there are consequences to drinking and driving or driving without a seatbelt.
Ignorance of the law is not an excuse, but it seems that scrap thieves are a particularly ignorant group who would profit from some type of elementary educational campaign. Biding time until all of them wise up or are caught, electrocuted or blow themselves up isn’t working.