Copper thieves strike again in North Charleston

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Copper is a hot item for thieves and Tuesday they struck again -- this time at a North Charleston manufacturing plant.

"A guy who can do this can easily look down the street walking by, go one, two, three, four, five, 10-ton units. That's about 100 pounds of copper, $300 quick," said Gill Leatherwood, Vice President of Leatherwood Manufacturing. "And it happens that quickly."

Leatherwood couldn't believe what happened when he arrived to work Tuesday morning.

"We've got five air conditioned units that have been affected," he said. "Probably right around 80 to 100 pounds worth."

Leatherwood heard copper was a hot item for thieves, but never imagined his business would get hit.

"We believe right off the street, over the front gate, they simply hit the five, and stripped the foam in my compressor shed and right back over the fence and gone," Leatherwood said.

Having the copper stolen from the air conditioner units makes working on the inside of the plant very hot, and for some employees, it's like a double blow to the company.

"It's very hot and something we're not used to because we are air conditioned and it's really hard when you work production and you move around a lot it's very hot," said electronic assembler Pat Greaf.

Now, not only do employees have to work in hot conditions, but the cost to replace the stolen copper is well in the thousands and production will fall slightly behind.

"Right now just guessing at parts, freon and labor, I think I'm somewhere between 8 and $10,000, and of course my schedules will be four man shy for the next three to four days, so by Wednesday I'll be 12 man shifts behind," Leatherwood said.

Leatherwood also said he will be looking into new security measures like security cameras and maybe installing more lights around the building so nothing like this happens again.

Gov. Nikki Haley signed a new bill into law that will require metal recycling centers to use checks when buying copper. Sellers will need to obtain a permit from local law enforcement and buyers will also need to take down the sellers information, and even take a picture in case the copper was stolen. The law takes effect Aug. 17.

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