Monday’s Our View: Tragic turn

“A person who kills another person with malice aforethought either expressed or implied commits murder.”


Our Position: Copper thieves responsible for man’s death.

As unlikely as it may have seemed, the rise in copper thefts was bound to take a tragic turn. On Sept. 1, Earl Thelander, 80, of Onawa succumbed to severe burns and injuries he suffered after thieves broke into a house he owned and stole copper tubing waterlines and attempted to steal the copper propane lines as well. When they didn’t succeed in the later, they left the lines damaged, emitting propane gas into the house.

Monona County officials said Thelander triggered an explosion when he plugged in a fan to help rid the house of fumes. Thankfully no one was living in the residence, but tragically, Thelander suffered second and third-degree burns in the explosion.

While some may dub this incident an accident, it was far from it. Thelander died as the result of someone else’s disregard for the law, both natural and state mandated.

While the Monona County Attorney Steve Allen is investigating what charges to file in the event an arrest is made, law officials all over southwest Iowa have made a point of noting that these crimes are hard to prosecute because it is difficult to identify suspects. Allen told The Daily Nonpareil last week he had ruled out a charge of first-degree murder unless intent to cause Thelander’s death could be proven.

Obviously the people who would perpetrate such a crime are far from rocket scientists, they obviously knew that cutting into the propane line was a bad idea since they left without stripping the copper from it. Rather than admit what they had done and possibly sparing Thelander’s life, they left a dangerous situation to someone else. The result was an explosion and the loss of one man’s life.

Perhaps even more tragic about the situation is the fact that copper thefts are happening virtually every day. Power losses have been reported, construction sites have suffered financial and time setbacks and local residents have had to cope in the sweltering heat after thieves stole their air conditioning units.

If you don’t think it’s that much of a problem, talk to the Rev. Geraldine Sanford of the Mount Zion Refuge Center, 3032 Seventh Ave. In July, thieves took the church’s air conditioner, a large commercial ground unit that was bolted into a concrete slab. A repairman told Sanford the thieves cut the unit out and pulled the plug to the electricity so that they would not get shocked. The estimate to replace the unit is between $2,400 and $3,000.

Investigating officers said the suspects probably wanted the unit for the copper. They said there would have been $85 to $90 worth of copper to be salvaged.

Essentially, the thieves are causing enormous amounts of destruction for small amounts of money.

How can you compare the cost of scrap metal to one man’s life? This is something the thieves did not think about, but it’s time we did, before someone else is hurt or killed.

In late August, Pottawattamie County and Council Bluffs city officials took small steps to attack the problem. The Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance stating anybody caught burning the unwanted excess from the wires will now be issued with a fine.

On a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Melvyn Houser absent, the board approved a $750 fine for those caught burning copper wires the first time and a $1,000 fine for each time thereafter.

The City Council has approved the first reading of an ordinance introduced by the Council Bluffs Police Department in an attempt to curb copper thefts.

Councilwoman Lynne Branigan was absent for the 4-0 vote, the first in a series for the ordinance, which requires local scrap dealers begin keeping records, including the use of fingerprints, of any individuals selling them scrap metals. The purpose is to crack down on the increasing number of scrap metals thefts, particularly copper and aluminum.

These records would then be used by the department for possible leads into metal thefts.

If we truly want to send a message to these thieves, there is no better place to start than in Monona County. Iowa law states “A person who kills another person with malice aforethought either expressed or implied commits murder.” By leaving a dangerous situation posed by the propane leak, the thieves knowingly placed Thelander in mortal danger before the explosion. Since the result was Thelander’s death, the thieves are ultimately responsible and should be charged with murder. Anything less would be a travesty of justice and an insult to Thelander’s family.

© Copyright 2007 SW Iowa News

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