Copper Theft Blamed for House Explosion

On January 13, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing

DesMoinesRegister.com

 

Copper theft blamed for house explosion

By TOM ALEX
REGISTER STAFF WRITER

August 29, 2007

A thief who stripped copper tubing from a propane tank is blamed for a gas buildup and house explosion that severely burned an 80-year-old Onawa man, authorities said Wednesday.

Earl Thelander suffered third-degree burns over nearly half his body in Tuesday’s blast. Investigators say the gas buildup was linked to the disappearance of the tubing, which has increasingly been the target of so-called “urban miners” who hope to cash in on the high price of certain scrap metals.

The thief who hit Thelander’s rural home “maybe got $15 worth of copper,” Monona County Sheriff Jeff Pratt said. “They cut the propane line going to the furnace of the house in an attempt to steal the copper.”

Pratt said Thelander discovered the theft Tuesday and tried to air out the house, which he uses for rental income. He went to the basement and plugged in a fan, which investigators say likely sparked the explosion.

“It blew out one wall and bowed another one,” Pratt said. “But Earl walked out of there.”

The thief got away with 25 to 40 feet of copper tubing. Scrap metal prices have climbed in recent years due to increased demand in countries such as India and China.

“This just totally bowled people over that someone would do something menacing like this,” Onawa’s mayor, Rebecca Tanner, said. “It’s one thing to steal copper water pipes. But to steal copper gas pipes is beyond comprehension. This caused a tremendous explosion. Everyone knows how dangerous gas can be. Everyone in town who knows about this is amazed, startled and outraged.”

Thelander tried to use his cell phone to call for help but it apparently was rendered inoperable in the blast.

“He drove himself back into town and to the hospital,” Pratt said. “He is really a remarkable guy.”

Thelander was later moved to an Omaha hospital with specialized burn unit.

Pratt said there have been few relatively copper thefts reported in Monona County.

“Counties to the south have had this problem,” he said. “Now we’ve got it — in a major way.”

 

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Reader Comment
Posted by: jsnmlk on Thu Aug 30, 2007 4:11 am
According to NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) propane can be ran through copper tubing. One thing is propane is heavier than air so it going to settle to the lowest point. His best bet would have been to set the fan outside and vent through a window out another window.

I hope when they catch this “entrepreneur(s)”(about as bad as calling it “urban mining”), they charge them with not only B&E but attempted murder, because taking the copper could be considered gross negligence. If the vicitm would pass way from his injuries (I hope he makes a full recovery) it should be considered murder 1 because it was premeidated.

Most scrap yards don’t care
Posted by: Matt on Thu Aug 30, 2007 12:01 am
I was selling some scrap copper a few weeks ago. I saw a couple of rolls of brand new wire. It was the bare solid copper wire we use for grounding electrical services to ground rods and water mains. Nice and neat rolls of bare copper wire. The theives just took the spools apart and they were left with rolled up bare copper wire.

I pointed out to the yard that it was totally hot wire. I knew you couldn’t prove it. But they needed to point this out to the cops.

I called a tropper I know and he told me which cop to talk to. The yard remembered what town the scum was from. I passed all of this on.

The cop later told me that they had the cops in the scum’s home town watching him as well.

I haven’t heard anything – what I saw wouldn’t do any good in court anyway – but hopefully they’ll get some of the scum of of the street.

Reader Comment
Posted by: hoopdwalawala on Wed Aug 29, 2007 7:09 pm
Fill the ‘miner’s’ home with propane then hand him a full crack pipe. That’ll resolve him in very short time.

Reader Comment
Posted by: spiceycurry on Wed Aug 29, 2007 6:58 pm
Boy, that is acryin’ shame. But what a tough Old Cat. I hope he recovers.

Theft -not mining
Posted by: cav-tanker on Wed Aug 29, 2007 5:14 pm
It would be nice if the Register would call it like it is. It is not Urban Mining- it is Breaking and entering along with larcency or theft. The term Urban Mining just tries to justify the theft or criminal trespass.

Hope they can throw the book at this jerk. Better yet – let him plug in the fan and then fry. You would never want to be burned again if you have been severely burnt before. It is a pain that doesn’t go away unless it gets to third degree.

Please start using the proper term instead of glorifying the crooks.

Reader Comment
Posted by: JJCDAD on Wed Aug 29, 2007 4:20 pm
I think there needs to be something done to make it harder for the crack heads to redeem scrap metal. Maybe some kind of requirement that folks who want to get cash for metal have to put down a sizeable deposit with the scrap yard. That deposit could then be refunded once the customer has demonstrated a history of legitimate transactions.

FYI
Posted by: fz1 on Wed Aug 29, 2007 3:22 pm
When you plug anything into an outlet there is a minute amount of spark…………..guessing he has figured that out now!

Reader Comment
Posted by: thor on Wed Aug 29, 2007 3:14 pm
I think they mean in a major way because now thieves are moving from pipes that cause minor inconviences to now to taking items that could possibly destroy a house. I’m pretty sure you would be awfuly upset if someone did this to you and then got charged with just petty theft.

There was another article just a couple weeks ago about people stealing catylitic converters from cars and selling then for around $30-$40, and then leaving the victim to purchase a new one for a couple hundred.

Also, hopefully he has good insurance because you know even if they catch the crack head who did this they won’t be able to get any money from him.

Reader Comment
Posted by: slycotton82 on Wed Aug 29, 2007 2:56 pm
3rd degree burns on half his body and he drove himself to the hospital? That is one tough 80 year old man!

Reader Comment
Posted by: missm on Wed Aug 29, 2007 2:48 pm
…in a major way – I suspect they meant because of the house explosion. That’s pretty major.

Also, I’m pretty sure that it is against plumbing code to run gas through copper lines. It is for natural gas anyway, not so sure about propane.

Copyright © 2007 The Des Moines Register

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Home explodes after thief nabs copper pipes

On January 7, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing

Record Herald logo

 

Home explodes after thief nabs copper pipes

“It blew out one wall and bowed another one”

By TOM ALEX
DES MOINES REGISTER STAFF WRITER

August 30, 2007

A thief who stripped copper tubing from a propane tank is blamed for a gas buildup and house explosion that severely burned an 80-year-old Onawa man, authorities said Wednesday.

Earl Thelander suffered third-degree burns over nearly half his body in Tuesday’s blast. Investigators say the gas buildup was linked to the disappearance of the tubing, which has increasingly been targeted by so-called “urban miners” who hope to cash in on the high price of certain scrap metals.

The burglar who hit Thelander’s rural home “maybe got $15 worth of copper,” Monona County Sheriff Jeff Pratt said. “They cut the propane line going to the furnace of the house in an attempt to steal the copper.”

Pratt said Thelander discovered the theft Tuesday and tried to air out the house, which he uses for rental income. He went to the basement and plugged in a fan, which investigators say likely sparked the explosion shortly after noon.

“It blew out one wall and bowed another one,” Pratt said. “But Earl walked out of there.”

The thief got away with 25 to 40 feet of copper tubing. Scrap metal prices have climbed in recent years due to increased demand in countries such as India and China.

“This just totally bowled people over that someone would do something menacing like this,” Onawa Mayor Rebecca Tanner said. “It’s one thing to steal copper water pipes. But to steal copper gas pipes is beyond comprehension. This caused a tremendous explosion. Everyone knows how dangerous gas can be.

“Everyone in town who knows about this is amazed, startled and outraged.”

Thelander tried to use his cell phone to call for help, but it apparently was rendered inoperable in the blast.

“He drove himself back into town and to the hospital,” Pratt said. “He is really a remarkable guy.”

Thelander was later moved to an Omaha hospital with a specialized burn unit. He was in critical condition Wednesday.

Pratt said there have been relatively few copper thefts reported in Monona County.

“Counties to the south have had this problem,” he said. “Now we’ve got it – in a major way.”

Reporter Tom Alex can be reached at (515) 284-8088 or talex@dmreg.com.

COMMENTS

Good point on if he had walked in on the thieves…
Posted by: leopard_colony on Sat Sep 01, 2007 9:18 am
Unfortunately Granddad hit the nail on the head… what would happen if someone interrupted these thieves? Odds are the homeowner would wind up dead. Since most theft is drug related it is likely the thieves have impaired judgment and are desperate for a fix. If you are in a rural area and hear someone outside you better be armed. There is no way the sheriff can reach you in time, nor do you want to pester them with false alarms. So grab your gun when you investigate. It doesn’t mean you have to shoot someone, it just means you can save your own life.

my solution
Posted by: FarWest on Thu Aug 30, 2007 2:00 pm
This thief deserves about 3 feet of 3/4″ copper suppository. I would say yes to attempted murder. I hope Mr. Thelander survives this. He must be one heck of a strong man to walk out of there and go for help.

Reader Comment
Posted by: Granddad on Thu Aug 30, 2007 1:12 pm
That is nothing less then attemted murder Don`t know if they are the same thieves that stole the copper out of One of my rentals three months ago. But catch these rotten bastards before someone gets killed. seriously if This outstanding gentalman (for his survival skills if nothing else)would have walked in on them stealing the copper what do you think these scumbags would have done(Surrender) Right.Solution. Need to moniter all sales of bulk copper having said this 3 times now DMPD are you listening there is only a handful of places that take metel like this. ARE records being kept ,Names being taken,Follow ups being made MMMM or a police force being lazy. now an elderly man has third degree burns over half his body GET BUSY.

Reader Comment
Posted by: dvmurphy from Waterloo, IA on Sep 4, 2007
I personally know Earl Thealander and his wife Hope. I hope they catch the no-good idiot who stripped his house of the copper tubing to the furnace. I hope Earl is doing great at the hospital and my heart goes out to his family. He is a great man and a great landlord to have. I should know as I rented an apartment from them for two years. If you needed anything that family was great. He is a well respected man in his community and would give you the shirt off his back to help you. The punk who caused his burns I hope he enjoys his lousy $15 that could have cost Earl his life. My Father always said that what you don’t pay for on earth you pay three fold to the Lord. The idiot who caused this accident will have to live with what he did. God bless you Earl.

Reader Comment
Posted by: dvmurphy from Waterloo, IA on Sep 4, 2007
I just found out that Earl died. I am saddened for his loss. My heart goes out to his family. If they catch this person responsible he should be tried for murder.

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Man Killed in Blast died for ‘piece of copper piping’

On January 7, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing

DesMoinesRegister.com

 

Man Killed in Blast died for ‘piece of copper piping’

Theft of gas line led to blast that burned Earl Thelander

By TOM ALEX
Register Staff Writer

September 5, 2007

An 80-year-old Onawa man has apparently become the first Iowa fatality related to the growing crime of urban mining.

Rising scrap metal prices have prompted a widespread trend of theft of metal construction materials from homes, businesses and construction sites.

“Yesterday, with his 11 kids and my mother surrounding him, my second father, Earl Thelander … died as the result of a cowardly thief who burglarized my grandparent’s former country home, for a $10 piece of copper piping,” Thelander’s stepdaughter, Jody Ewing, wrote on her Web site over the weekend.

“The burglar didn’t bother to shut off the gas before cutting the copper gas line, and let the home fill with gas for the inevitable explosion,” Ewing wrote.

Thelander died Saturday at an Omaha medical center burn unit after being burned in a gas explosion at the home on Aug. 28.

“‘Dad Earl’ – as my four siblings and I always called him – wanted to live,” Ewing wrote. “And, he had everything to live for. He was healthy, happy, and couldn’t wait until his tomatoes finished ripening on the vines. He’d planned to give each of us some, and looked forward to the BLT sandwiches my mom always made for him.

“Yes, he wanted to live. Even after the explosion, he somehow managed to crawl through the fire, climb into his pickup, and drive the two miles back home in town, where my mother then immediately took him to the hospital. With both his knees burned clear through to the bone, he’d managed to make it back to her,” Ewing wrote.

“Yesterday (Saturday), we each took turns holding the tips of his fingers … one of the few parts on his body without the full-thickness, third-degree burns, and we told him again and again how much we loved him, how much he’d taught us about life and respect and hard work and looking out for one another and reaching out to help a neighbor in need.”

Ewing, who describes herself on her Web site as a freelance journalist and cold case investigative journalist, said her stepfather’s death should prompt officials to consider filing serious charges.

The county attorney and the sheriff are not saying what charges they are considering.

“It’s a criminal investigation at this point. Stealing was a criminal act,” said Monona County Attorney Michael Jensen.

Monona County Sheriff Jeff Pratt also declined to speculate on what charges might be filed and said no one has been arrested.

Thelander’s death may be the first in the state relating to copper theft.

Brad Novak, a Cedar Rapids detective and member of the executive board of the Iowa State Police Association, said he has heard of no other deaths connected to the theft of copper. “I can’t recall anything like that,” he said. “We are seeing an increase in copper thefts. It’s a statewide trend.”

Thelander’s son, Brad Thelander, talked with his father on the day that it happened.

“I saw him at the hospital in Onawa,” he said. “He joked with us, and we joked with him. He was conscious and talking and he joked about screwing up by turning on the fan. But he’d let the house air out for 2hours later while Thelander was alone in the house.

Family members were told almost from the beginning that Thelander’s chance of survival was just 20 percent or 25 percent. He had third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body.

“Knowing how tough he was we still thought he’d beat the odds,” Brad Thelander said. But the end came about 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

“What we don’t understand is why the thief didn’t turn off the gas,” he said. “They had to know the house was filling up with gas. Or at least they could have made an anonymous call to someone saying the gas was on in the house.”

Reporter Tom Alex can be reached at (515) 284-8088 or talex@dmreg.com.
COMMENTS from the Des Moines Register article:

Very dangerous scumbags!
Posted by: leopard_colony on Thu Sep 06, 2007 11:17 am
The scumbag(s) who did this are very dangerous. They stole copper piping without bothering to shut off the valve at the tank. That shows depraved indifference to the safety of others and themselves. Now imagine interrupting these jerks in the act. It is a safe bet that they would not hesitate to attack you. You can’t call the police just because you hear something, you have to investigate first. At that point you don’t have a chance to call the police before the criminals attack you. If you are unarmed you would be dead or seriously injured. So you need a firearm, not to shoot someone but to keep criminals away. Shooting someone is the last thing you want to do. Now imagine a politician is elected who bans almost all firearms, leaving you helpless. To make it worse, the criminals know you are helpless! It’s open season on people, especially women Remember this when you vote!

Reader Comment
Posted by: westdesmoinesguy on Wed Sep 05, 2007 10:34 pm
Require documented Picture ID and any other requirements that are currently required of pawn shops….Scrap dealers are in the same business..

Copper thieves
Posted by: fumblefing on Wed Sep 05, 2007 9:13 am
The scumbags that did this are likely oblivious to any publicity on it, they are focused on financing their next “fix”. They likely don’t have the inclination to listen to or read the news.

The market sets prices for scrap metal and our industries depend in part on the scrap for material. Other than licensing sellers and requiring record keeping of sales beyond what the scrap dealers are already made to do, there isn’t much that could be done here.

It would be good to see these folks caught but the current justice system would soon have them back on the streets. Best scenario: they take themselves out without leaving their heirs an excuse to sue the victims.

Reader Comment
Posted by: Rocco_L on Wed Sep 05, 2007 8:15 am
I hope they charge the scum bags with murder 1 now.

Somewhere right now there’s a one or 2 thieving dirtbags sweating bullets and looking over their shoulders wondering when the cops are coming to get them.

Reader Comment
Posted by: former Iowan on Wed Sep 05, 2007 7:24 am
How absolutely senseless and sad this innocent elder gentleman had to loose his life because of some worthless (probably) dopehead had to have a quick fix and caused this explosion. I hope they catch the jerk and hang him by his feet. I have read many stories about people stealing copper tubing and destroying houses – but I never read about anyone being caught. Maybe someone should look at closing down the places that buy this – or at least cutting the prices to where it isn’t worth the crooks trouble to steal it.

Meth
Posted by: Skylark on Wed Sep 05, 2007 7:22 am
Very sad for this individuals family and friends. Monona County hopefully can catch one of the local meth heads selling copper at the scrap yards.

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7 Dogs did NOT need “Big Bang”

On February 19, 2006, in Crime, by Jody Ewing

Shame shame shame on Fremont (IA) County dispatcher Deborah Weiss of rural Shenandoah for lying to and misleading Police Chief Nick Millsap, who took seven dogs out into the country and shot them while the dogs’ owner was in jail.

The Des Moines Register has five audio tapes of phone conversations going back and forth between Weiss and veterinarian Richard Jamison, and Weiss and Police Chief Millsap.

While Millsap is charged with animal cruelty and currently is on paid leave, dispatcher Deborah Weiss is getting a “letter of reprimand” placed in her file. There is something very wrong with this picture.

Weiss led Chief Millsap to believe the vet was refusing to accept the animals, and that is not the case. She also told Millsap the dogs needed a “big bang.”

What Millsap did is clearly wrong, but in my opinion, Weiss is no less accountable. I hope to God Fremont County residents will make their voices heard in this matter.

Read the article and listen to the tapes. You decide.

DesMoinesRegister.com
Note: DMR article no longer available