Tucson restaurants forced to close due to stolen copper valves

Published: Apr. 28, 2016 at 11:17 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:19 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Two restaurants on Tucson's northwest side were forced to temporarily close on Thursday, April 28, after someone stole copper pipes and valves from their water lines.

Tommy Begay, an employee at Sushi on Oracle, located near the intersection of West Orange Grove and North Oracle Roads, said when he got to work at around 9 a.m., the water pressure was not working properly. He later realized two copper valves and several pipes and fittings were missing from a back flow assembly, which is used by the city to avoid contamination when water flows.

"It looked like somebody had used like a hammer or a hatchet and knocked out one piece and kind of bent the pieces apart," Begay said.

According to Begay, the restaurant was forced to close for the day and the restaurant next door, called The Parish, also had to shut its doors for a few hours as the issue was resolved.

"To lose several of hours of business due to this type of thing is bad for us," Begay said.

Copper theft was extremely prevalent in Tucson a few years ago. In May 2012, the Tucson Police Department created a special program called the Metal Theft Reduction Apprehension Plan, which was a team of officers set out to stop criminals from going to light poles and small businesses and pulling out wires.

Gary Keppur, president of Tucson Iron & Metal, has been in the metal recycling business for more than 30 years. He said that task force is no longer implemented but that it has been a collective effort between lawmakers, businesses and law enforcement that has helped bring metal-theft cases down.

"There's a whole set of new laws and reporting that all the reputable scrap dealers do," Keppur said. "We have to take ID from everybody. We scan it, we get their thumbprint, we take a picture of their metal and a picture of them."

Keppur said that information is sent to a database linked to law enforcement every night.

In a previous report regarding metal theft, Tucson Iron and Metal cannot purchase stripped copper wire from individuals, only from businesses. 

The price of copper has also played a big role in the decrease of theft cases. Keppur said the price has gone down from about $3 to $4 a few years ago, to about $2.20 per pound now. He also recommends small businesses and residents to be diligent and be sure to store away any visible and accessible copper pieces.

"If you have an air conditioner, put a cage on it," Keppur said. "If you have raw material like aluminum or copper or brass, make sure it's stored inside, don't leave it outside."

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