Man Dies After $20 Copper Theft

4:15 p.m. CDT October 12, 2007

ONAWA, Iowa — A $20 copper theft in August led to the death of an Iowa man, and local authorities said on Friday that they need the public’s help to solve the crime. Earl Thelander, 80, died in late August after an explosion in a home he owns outside of Onawa. His son, Doug, said his father was preparing the property for a new renter. In the process, someone raided the inside of the home, police said, stealing wiring and tubing and cutting a gas line into the home.

Doug Thelander said his father aired out the gas smell in the house for almost three hours the next day, then plugged in a fan to move the air around.

“He said, ‘Doug, I didn’t smell anything, but that spark there was just a tremendous explosion,'” Thelander said, recalling one of his last conversations with his father.

Earl Thelander had second- and third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body. He died in a hospital four days later.

“It’s tough to watch. It’s tough to watch somebody like that just fade away,” Doug Thelander said.

Monona County Sheriff Jeff Pratt said has been working the case since the beginning. Now, he’s asking the public for more help.

“We’re talking about $20 worth of copper,” the sheriff said. “We’re trying to make people aware that somebody had to of heard something, or somebody spoke about it. We just want people to call in and give us some information.”

“He was a humble man,” said Doug Thelander. “He was a strong man. He was a good man.”

If you have information, call 800-859-1413. Callers may remain anonymous, and there is a reward for good information.

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