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2 charged in copper thefts at Sugar Hill Elementary
Damages covered by insurance
0608COPPERjames wingo
James Wingo

James Blake Wingo, 21, and a teenage juvenile were charged Tuesday afternoon in connection with copper thefts at Sugar Hill Elementary School in eastern Hall County.

The school was burglarized overnight Monday, with 11 heating, ventilation and air conditioning units damaged.

Copper tubing was torn from the large rooftop units, causing between $75,000 and $100,000 in damage, said Jeff Strickland, Hall County Sheriff's Office chief deputy.

Wingo and the juvenile were charged with felony theft by taking, felony criminal damage and possession of tools of a crime.

A patrol officer noticed an open gate leading to the school at 1:28 a.m. Tuesday, but investigators believe the perpetrators had already left the scene by that time, Strickland said.

When the damage was discovered around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the school system offered a $5,000 reward for any information that helped police track down those responsible.

Hall County Sheriff's Office charged Wingo and the juvenile within 24 hours of the reported damage.

"As (officers) began the investigation, they looked at local recyclers and let them know the thefts had occurred," Strickland said Tuesday. "As a result of that, one of the recyclers was able to provide information on the suspects who had brought in a large amount of copper this morning."

A short time later, officers arrested Wingo and the juvenile at a Dorsey Peek Road residence.

While at the residence, officers also located tools that may have been used in the theft and other items taken from the school, Strickland said.

This is the second time this year that copper wiring has been stolen from the school's air conditioning units.

On April 11, 12 units were damaged to the tune of $74,000. According to Hall County Schools spokesman Gordon Higgins, those responsible were never found.

"It's frustrating," said Lee Lovett, Hall County deputy superintendent. "We put brand new units up there, then they went and stripped those new units."

Strickland said investigators have been unable to link Monday night's theft to the earlier one, but they are looking into that possibility.

Lovett said the damage is covered by insurance, but the school system still has to pay a $10,000 deductible.

Strickland said the Hall County Sheriff's Office will be increasing patrols at all schools in the county to prevent future incidents.

Lovett said the community can also help by keeping an eye out and reporting any suspicious activity to law enforcement immediately.

 

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