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Scrap metal thieves target Stately Oaks

Thieves vandalized three air conditioning units at historic Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro. Police believe they were after the copper inside.

Thieves vandalized three air conditioning units at historic Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro. Police believe they were after the copper inside.

Thieves destroyed three outside air conditioning units at Jonesboro's historic Stately Oaks Plantation to get at the valuable copper inside, according to police.

A worker preparing for two tour buses, Sunday morning, discovered the damage and called Historical Jonesboro President Barbara Emert. Emert said the destruction is a heavy financial blow to the antebellum tourist attraction that relies solely on donations, admission fees and membership dues.

"I just felt despair, total despair," said Emert. "Every penny we have to spend on something like that is money that can't go to upkeep, education, things like that. It's lost money and means it will take much more money to keep the doors open."

Insurance will cover the damage, but Stately Oaks officials will still have to pay the deductible. One of the units was bought just last month through a fund-raising event.

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Stately Oaks Plantation

Stately Oaks Plantation

"We don't have a final number yet, but we expect it to cost $10,000-$15,000 to fix," she said. "Our rates could go up, or we could even be canceled."

As the economy declines, unemployment rises and the price of scrap metals and copper continues to climb. Similar thefts are increasing nationwide. Jonesboro Police Chief Franklin Allen said his department is taking proactive measures to try and combat a crime that is nearly impossible to prevent.

"We are very aware of the problem, and are taking steps to address it," said Allen. "If the problem persists, we will take even more aggressive action."

Allen would not share specifics of what the department's plan involves, but said he may go public with details if the stealth approach does not work.

"Right off, I can think of four commercial places and two residential homes that have been targeted," he said. "I don't think the number of crimes affects Jonesboro more than any other place, it's a widespread problem."

Part of the problem is that it is so hard to make a case, unless the thief is caught in the act.

"This metal is hard to trace," said Allen. "And the thefts are not limited to air conditioning units, they apply to all metals, anything they can salvage."

Several cases have been indicted recently in Clayton County Superior Court, but they all involve suspects caught red-handed. Forest Park police applied for, and got, a grant to buy special equipment designed to target scrap metal thieves.

Allen hopes his officers can nip the thefts in the bud.

"We've been getting at least one case a week for the past three months," he said.

A solution may have come too late for Stately Oaks. Emert said a group of about 50 tourists is expected today. "We have these people coming in, and we have no cooling," she said. "It's a really great inconvenience."

To make a donation to Stately Oaks, call the office at (770) 473-0197.