Copper thieves strike at two area grocery stores

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Thieves hit two grocery stores, located just five miles apart. But authorities say they're not after money or food, but they're taking copper.  Authorities say they struck at the Publix on Johns Island and Bi-Lo in West Ashley.

Police say the thieves struck at Bi-Lo at about 3:50 a.m. Wednesday and stole about $3,000 worth of copper from a refrigeration unit. Officers say the $45,000 unit will need to be replaced. They say the suspect took nearly five feet of copper wiring.

The stores had to clear their shelves of perishable food items.

"They had somebody break into the air condition system, stole their copper. Since their copper is gone, they're pulling everything off even if it's still cool, just to make sure," shopper Herb Hollar said.

Billy Deweese was in the independent grocery store business for many years. He says even though the food is insured, it's sad to see all that food go to waste. "This is bad. What a loss of food. It's completely ruined. It's just disgraceful," Deweese said.

Across town at Publix on Johns Island, it made for a frustrating trip to the grocery store for some shoppers trying to get what they needed in one trip.

"All the refrigerated and frozen stuff was marked off. It was a little bit frustrating. I really needed some of my ice cream and stuff like that. I couldn't go get it. I guess I'll just have to go to another grocery store," shopper Julie Gorcesky said.

Charleston County Sheriff's Office says sometime early Wednesday morning thieves struck, taking copper wiring from the cooling system on the roof.

"They're replacing a lot of things right away. The freezers are doing wonderful. It's just a matter of taking things one step at a time because it's not their fault," shopper Elba Hernandez said.

The Sherriff's Office says it got the call at about 7:30 a.m. They say the value of the stolen copper is unknown and there are no suspects at this time.

Managers at Publix would not talk to Live 5 News about what happened or say when they expect everything to be back up and running with the shelves stocked.

Bi-Lo released this statement: "The safety of our customers and teammates is our top priority, and we are cooperating fully with the Charleston Police Department on their investigation of the copper theft at our store on Bees Ferry Road last night." -Terry Stanley, Bi-Lo Loss Prevention director said.

Police say it is too early to say if these incidents are related at this point.

Back in September Charleston Police say someone stole copper tubing from Food Lion in the Ashley Crossing Shopping Center.

Despite these recent incidents, the Charleston County Sheriff's Office says they've seen a drop in copper theft cases since a new state law went into effect requiring permits to sell copper to recyclers.

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