Twenty two Union Pacific Railroad engines in Pine Bluff were targets of copper thefts with damages estimated at $5.5 million. Special to The Commercial/William Harvey
What was described as the biggest copper theft in Arkansas history has Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies looking for additional suspects after making three arrests.
Major Lafayette Woods Jr. said damages resulting from the theft of copper from 22 of 28 Union Pacific Railroad engines was estimated at $250,000 each, or a total of $5.5 million.
“It’s the biggest copper theft I’ve ever seen at one time,” Woods said.
Those arrested Tuesday were identified as John Carrington, 45, of Monticello; Wesley Clark, 29, of Star City; and Billy Elliott, 40, who listed an address in Pearl City, Ill.
Woods said all three had reportedly been living in the Jefferson County area.
The investigation actually began Monday when deputies went to Evergreen Packaging to investigate a non-related series of thefts there, and during that investigation, officials developed information about the thefts from the railroad engines which reportedly occurred Monday.
“On Tuesday, railroad police and an insurance investigator went to assess the damage and found one suspect on site stripping copper,” Woods said. “Railroad police called for assistance and a second suspect was located by deputies and investigators, along with a third suspect in a truck at the rail yard.”
Woods said investigators were able to determine that there was so much copper that the thieves actually split up into teams, going to the rail yard at different times to damage the engines and steal the copper.
“Based on where the copper was in the engines, it had to be someone familiar with the railroad and engines and we have developed a suspect who had that knowledge,” Woods said.
In addition to the three suspects already in custody, Woods said investigators have identified several other people they believe were responsible, as well as people who were buying the copper, and more arrests will be forthcoming.
“There is a big market for copper and there are people who will pay large amounts of money for it,” Woods said. “If there wasn’t, there would not be the thefts that we’re seeing.”
Carrington is being held on a $50,000 bond on one count of breaking or entering, one count of second-degree criminal mischief and one count of theft of property, according to the intake log at the adult detention center.
Bond for Clary was set at $50,000 on one count of breaking or entering and one count of second-degree criminal mischief.
Bond for Elliott was set at $25,000 on three counts of breaking or entering, two counts of second-degree criminal mischief and three counts of theft of property.