Man convicted of stealing copper wire from Sound Transit Light Rail

The King County Prosecutor’s Office is reporting that a local man has been convicted of stealing 4.3 miles of copper wiring from the Sound Transit Light Rail System.

A jury convicted Donald Howard Turpin, 55, last week of Burglary Second Degree, Theft First Degree with a metal theft aggravator, Trafficking in Stolen Property First Degree, and Leading Organized Crime.

It’s believed to be the largest known metal theft in Washington State.

A co-defendant, Lee Russell Skelly, 45, pled guilty to Theft First Degree. Turpin faces a sentence range of 12 ½ to 16 ½ years in prison, which includes the metal theft aggravator. Skelly’s range is up to 90 days in jail.

The defendants stole the wire from November 2010 through August of 2011. They committed the thefts by entering maintenance hatches in a tunnel that runs below the elevated portion of the light rail between the SeaTac and Rainer Beach Rail Stations. They would enter at night and remove the “bright and shiny” copper wire, which was designed to ground “stray voltage” in the track system, by using standard bolt cutters. After dropping the wire through expansion gaps between the columns, they would drive along the line picking up the cut wire at various locations. Evidence gathered by King County Sheriff’s Detectives showed that primarily Turpin took the wire to scrap metal recycling businesses in King County and sold the metal. The investigation focused on Turpin after detectives found DNA evidence on items in the tunnel.

Turpin made approximately $50,000 in profit. Turpin had a state issued business license which would allow him to scrap the metal with little if any scrutiny by the scrap metal buyers. The replacement cost of the 55,000 pounds of copper wire was estimated at over $1.3 million; the copper itself was worth over $200,000. “This crime shows the astounding lengths that some criminals will go to take what isn’t theirs,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg. “This was an assault on our public transportation infrastructure,” he added. Prosecutors wish to thank King County Sheriff’s Detectives Paula Bates, Ryan Abbott, and JD Williams for their hard work on this case. The case was handled by Senior DPA Amanda Froh and DPA Peter Lewicki. Sentencing is scheduled for June 13.

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