The three suspects were arrested at a recycling center in Madera County. Investigators say 37-year-old Joy McKay and 19-year-old Dorothy Alt came to the business and tried to sell three steel man hole covers while 30-year-old Isaac Gonzalez waited outside in their car. As with many other precious metal thefts we have reported on in the Valley; copper wire was stolen from that Planada facility.
Thursday, the sheriff's office says it is thanking local recyclers for spotting and reporting the suspicious sell off.
A hole in the fence is the likely entry point for a trio of suspects accused of stealing manhole covers and copper wire from a lot in Planada. Investigators say 19-year-old Dorothy Jane Alt, 37-year-old Joy Dawn McKay, and 30-year-old Isaac Gonzalez stole the metal items Wednesday. They said Gonzalez sat in the car at a Madera County recycling facility while the two women went inside trying to trade three manhole covers for cash.
The sheriff's office says that is when they were tipped off by the recyclers. "Our Ag crimes detective goes over and sure enough, gets there and the guy is in the back seat and he talks to him, the guys yeah we found them in Planada," said Erica Stuart, Madera County Sheriff's Office.
Stuart said the group admitted to taking the manhole covers from this Merced County owned property. They also told the investigators they did not have permission to be there.
Stuart also says fortunately the number of recyclers working to catch metal thieves is growing. "I think recyclers are getting a bad rap. Because people think they don't care, when in fact they do care."
The missing covers are a major safety concern for law enforcement, especially since they are going missing throughout the Valley. Over the summer 10 covers were taken from streets in the City of Merced in a one week period. And recently Bakersfield, City officials reported more than 60 manhole covers stolen.
The heavy metal targets can cost tax payers thousands to replace. Merced County Sheriff's deputies are working to keep a close eye on this empty complex.
"We are working with the housing authority, they've asked us to do extra patrol in the area, to prevent any future problems, if possible," said Tom MacKenzie, Madera County Sheriff's Office.
In the meantime Madera officials have a strong message to potential metal thieves. "The message that the ag crimes here are trying to make sure that the public knows: if you're going to take the chance to try to steal it, and come to Madera to sell it, you're probably going to end up behind bars," said Stuart.
Investigators say even if the manhole covers are recycled they would only sell for pennies on the dollar. They also want us to stress recyclers are only allowed to accept manhole covers from government agencies like the city or county.