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Posted on Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Manhole cover, sewer grate thieves caught 'red-handed'

By Kyle Feldscher

Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office deputies made arrests a day after more than 16 sewer grates and manhole covers were reported stolen from area streets, according to police.

Sheriff’s office spokesman Derrick Jackson said Thursday afternoon that at least two men had been arrested at about 1 p.m. after a tip from residents. Jackson said more details would be available Friday on the arrests and the cases to which they were linked.

“They were actually caught red-handed, thanks to some observant citizens,” Jackson said.


Eugenesergeev |

Scrap metal thieves struck all around the eastern part of Washtenaw County Wednesday: Ypsilanti police reported eight sewer grates stolen, at least seven manhole covers were reported stolen from the Sweetwater Drive and Swan Lake Drive area of Ypsilanti Township, multiple manhole covers were reported stolen from the 9000 block of Potterville Road in Augusta Township and even more manhole covers were reported stolen within the Liberty Square Condominiums in the past four days.

Even in a time when scrap metal thefts are becoming increasingly common, Wednesday’s spike in thefts of sewer grate and manhole covers was unusual.

Roy Townsend, the county highway engineer of the Washtenaw County Road Commission, said three types of sewer grates are being stolen: storm sewer grates from the road commission, sanitary sewer grates and water sewer grates owned by Ypsilanti Township and the Ypsilanti Community Utilities Authority. Each grate weighs about 100 pounds and costs about $100 to $125 to replace, Townsend said.

The scrap metal value is $50 each, he said. When the road commission is notified of a missing grate, they replace them and have been doing so in the past two days, he said.

“This is quite a safety concern for the motoring and walking public,” he said.

Each grate or manhole covers up a roughly four-foot drop, said Jeff Harms, director of field services for the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office.

He said it’s possible for pedestrians to fall into the holes or for vehicles to blow a tire when they run over the gap left by the missing covers.

Washtenaw County Chief Deputy Assistant Prosecutor Steve Hiller said in an email that he hadn’t heard of any injuries or property damage coming from the thefts as of Thursday afternoon.

He said the very least the alleged thieves could face are larceny charges, but the level of offense will be determined by the value involved. Hiller said it’s likely that there was some sort of conspiracy involved in the crimes because it’s difficult to lug the heavy manhole covers and sewer grates into vehicles.

“The danger created by these thefts is obvious and serious,” Hiller said.

Hiller said he couldn’t speculate if charges could be brought against the alleged thieves if someone was injured by falling into a hole that a manhole or sewer grate was covering. It would all depend on the specifics of the case, he said.

He said it’s likely that the men either did or attempted to sell the sewer grates and manhole covers to a scrap metal business, which would see those businesses possibly facing charges of receiving and concealing stolen property.

At least one scrap metal business in the area has a policy that they will not buy any manhole covers or sewer grates unless they are being sold by the municipality they came from.

A representative from Select Metals Recycling in Ann Arbor said Thursday he guaranteed the business would never buy a manhole cover or sewer grate unless it was proven that the seller was from the city or township the manhole cover came from.

Lee Higgins and Lisa Allmendinger contributed to this story.

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 2:25 p.m.

Way to go, police.

martini man

Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 1:43 a.m.

Any scrap metal dealer who wasn't a crook, would know that anyone trying to sell multiple man hole covers, or storm drain covers, was not on the up and up. In my opinion , buying these items would make that scrap metal dealer an accompliss. I have an idea that the scrap dealers and the crooks have a more or less their version of "don't ask...don't tell " Dumpster divers and down right theives are a boon to the scrap business.

Huron 74

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 10:13 p.m.

Really folks, if the scrap dealers were thrown in jail for buying public property, this would stop immediately. I knew some guys long ago who picked up a bunch of scrap metal along the railroad. When they tried to sell it, the dealer told them to get the H out of his yard. Taking anything from the railroad is a federal offense. A few trips to some suspect yards by the police would probably do it and save us all a lot of greif. Prevention...

Woman in Ypsilanti

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 10:12 p.m.

It can't be easy to steal one of these things. It must take a good amount of time and effort. In addition to making it harder for people to do this (by locking them or by busting the buyers), we might do well to examine the reasons someone might think it worthwhile to steal one of these for $50. Maybe I am overestimating the time it takes but still.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:52 p.m.

The key might be in the headline: "redhanded". Why not put the same exploding powdered dye they use for the money stolen from banks, only red. Place it on the underside of the manhole that a soon as it's lifted out of the ground it explodes, covering the manhole stealers in red dye. Obviously with a turn off safety device for when there is legitimate removal by authorized workers.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:35 p.m.

They need to install a manhole locking system: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:26 p.m.

Any correlation to the missing man on fourth? Just wondering.

Chase Ingersoll

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:15 p.m.

Don't we have some carbon composite substitute for metal manhole covers? This is just the most absurd crime, because of the danger that it causes, for so little gain and such a high probability of getting caught. Is the economy so bad for illiterates that even the crimes they commit are less profitable? I think an appropriate punishment would be to probate them to habitating the Occupy Wall Street camps during the winter months.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:51 p.m.

Carbon composite likely would be plenty strong enough, but probably not heavy enough. One reason manhole covers are as heavy as they are is so they don't pop out of their placement when vehicles drive over them. And what would the literacy or illiteracy of criminals have to do with anything?


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:04 p.m.

NONFERROUS METAL REGULATORY ACT (EXCERPT) Act 429 of 2008 445.425 Dealers; sellers; duties. Sec. 5. (1) A dealer shall do all of the following: (a) Produce and maintain records as required under section 7(2). (b) Participate in a database meeting the requirements of section 11. (c) Tag and hold any nonferrous metal as provided for in section 9. (d) Pay a seller by a method capable of being traced from the dealer to the seller. Payment by cash or currency of more than $50.00, barter, or trade is not considered a payment that complies with the requirement of this subdivision. Payment of cash in any amount in a transaction involving predominantly copper articles is considered a violation of this subdivision. (e) In the case of a transaction involving nonferrous metal, verify that the seller is at least 16 years of age. (2) A seller shall do all of the following: (a) Present to the dealer an operator's or chauffeur's license, military identification card, Michigan identification card, passport, or other government-issued identification containing a photograph and allow the dealer to make a photocopy or electronic copy of the identification. (b) Allow the dealer to make a thumbprint, to be used only for identification purposes by the dealer and for investigation purposes by a law enforcement agency. (c) Execute a signed statement indicating that the seller is the owner of, or is otherwise authorized to sell, the nonferrous metal offered for purchase to the dealer. (d) Attest to the lack of any criminal convictions involving the theft, conversion, or sale of nonferrous metals.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 7:39 p.m.

Here you call mine! (734) 424 0371


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 7:24 p.m.

If you guys have any doubt, please call the scrap dealer directly and satisfy yourself. 734-662-0317


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:47 p.m.

Not clear on whether or not this would apply to manhole covers. Aren't they made to a substantial degree of iron? If so, your posting relates to nonferrous metals. Iron is a ferrous metal.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 3:11 p.m.

Although my comment was deleted, I'm so glad these theives were caught red handed. Great Job WCSD!!!!!!!


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

Geez, I'd hate to lose a small child down one of these opening. Lock 'em up, throw away the key. I'm not usually so over-exuberantly &quot;tough on crime&quot;, but this is far more dangerous than other types of theft.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 2:49 p.m.

Personally, I'd like to see those thieves lose their fingers when a cover drops onto them over the hole.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 2:48 p.m.

One can only hope the scap metal business that gets caught (waterboarding acceptable investigation tool?) that they get more than a simple slap on the wrist - you know these same perps are breaking into homes / new construction and stealing metals for their living.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 2:43 p.m.

I hope/trust detailed questioning about the breaking of an historic jewish cemetary plaque on campus, well covered in, is part of the investigation.

Ron Granger

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 2:05 p.m.

Indeed - get the businesses that have been fencing the goods too. This metal is too big to easily cut up. The business paying them for this metal knows it is stolen.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 1:53 p.m.

They usually break them into pieces and include them in a load of mixed scrap so one cannot easily identify them as stolen property.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 1:44 p.m.

Unless you live in a bubble ( excuse me this is Ann Arbor ) theres no question as to where they are being sold but @ $ 20 ( based on $ 100 a ton ) thats a lot of work ..on the other hand now that they took them why not just duck tape the perps over the hole ...justice and repairs both resolved at the same time...


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:11 p.m.

100# @ $100/ton = $5


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 1:26 p.m.

Ya know... If there was no market for the manhole covers, there would be no thievery.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 1:39 p.m.

It isn't like you can sell them on eBay, eh?


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 1:02 p.m.

Last time I took metals to the recycle facility on South State, I got only .06 per pound for ferrous metal. I don't know how you came up with the $50 figure, but I know that is way out of range. When you first register to sell scrap metal, you are required to show ID, get fingerprinted (rather ignominious), and only get payment by check, no cash. That is, or course, if you are selling to a reputable scrap dealer.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 7:37 p.m.

You are not the only one that takes scrap to a dealer. There are some that weigh before and after without ever knowing what you are taking because you/I unload it myself.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 7:22 p.m.

Joe I do this for a living, in case you haven't noticed my Avatar. This IS my back yard. I took scrap metals to Select Metals Recycling (734-662-0317) not even a month ago. You can call and verify this for yourself, if so inclined. Actually, I called them at 2:40 this afternoon and was given a price of 6 cents a pound. You can also ask about their proceedures for ID, as I wrote earlier. Go ahead, I dare you, only because you were so sure of yourself. Call 'em. And once you have, I dare you to post your correction on this thread.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 5:55 p.m.

I don't know where the sun sets in your back yard, but if you haven't noticed the prices of everything has gone up, and especially metals. The scrap yards are not going to do all finger print and a blood sample in order to buy metal from you. I have taken lots of stuff to the scrap yard and never once was i subject to Id myself and walked away with cash. You bring it in and they weigh it and give you the amount they are offering, and you leave, that's it. Not every one who scraps metal are criminals.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 12:52 p.m.

I believe that because the idea is out many other scrapers will attempt to Copy cat the crimes. Also reporting the actual amount they can get for one of these things will prove to be a bad idea.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

Great, now make an example out of these guys.

Dr. Rockso

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 12:23 p.m.

This is an example of the entrepreneurial spirit fostered by Rick Snyder's policies.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 7:34 p.m.

Good thing Obama took out Osama or you could blame him!


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 1:47 p.m.

you must blame Govenor Synder for the fact that you are not a real Doctor too!


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 1:21 p.m.

These type of thefts were occurring way before Snyder took office.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 12:57 p.m.


Jim Osborn

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 12:19 p.m.

I do want to read a story tomorrow about the scrap dealer who was caught buying these manhole covers, or, why the police blew this great chance to stop this practice. This is not just simple theft, but a safety hazard. The story states "…for vehicles to blow a tire" I'm sure that much more would happen to a car than just a tire, most likely the entire front suspension would be damaged at a cost over $1,000. If someone were to be walking along and not see it and fall in, their injuries could be serious. If the laws treat this as petty theft for one cover, then they need to be changed.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 12:16 p.m.

Find out who they were selling them to and put them out of biz, no way did the buyer not know those were stolen. Set an example!


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 3:49 p.m.

Not true! Some of the scrap yards have you pull in on the scales with your truck and trailer the weigh it and then you pull back on the scales after you have emptied your load. The covers can be hidden in the pile and never seen by scrap yard personnel. However I am sure there are yards that do know what they are getting.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 12:03 p.m.

I don't know how you catch ALL the metal thieves, but if the metal buyers have no where to unload it, that may stop the process. People selling bulk metal like manhole covers or yards of used copper piping etc should have to show where it came from like an authorized demolition signed off on just like the building steps. If you take away the intended value, you take away the theft.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 11:59 a.m.

This is a *great* opportunity to catch the scrap metal business fencing these stolen goods! I hope the police catch the perps and that the judge locks 'em up and throws away the keys!

Michael Sanders

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 11:58 a.m.

Don't you mean &quot;person hole covers&quot;?


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 6:28 p.m.

@ Doug Get a sense of humor!

Homeland Conspiracy

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 1:11 p.m.

oh great a 1%er

Wolf's Bane

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 1:09 p.m.

The Manhole, is a great gay bar in Chicago as well.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 12:24 p.m.

Get a job!


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 11:28 a.m.

I am glad they caught them!! Did not feel very safe when the sheriff told me that they had a suspect on the lose around my house!