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