2 arrested after attempted theft of copper at Marysville radio tower

MARYSVILLE — When Deb Whitford glanced at the screen, she first saw the magnified body of a spider on the camera lens.

Her attention soon was diverted from arachnid to anomaly.

A man with long hair, no shirt and bolt cutters walked into the frame. He most certainly didn’t belong.

Whitford, a lead dispatcher for SNOPAC 911, contacted Marysville police to alert them that someone had broken into an emergency radio communication tower in the 8800 block of 64th Street NE.

Surveillance cameras have been in place at emergency communication towers across Snohomish County following a spate of break-ins in recent years by scrap metal thieves searching for copper.

Two north Snohomish County men, both in their 50s, were arrested Monday night and booked into the Snohomish County Jail for investigation of burglary and malicious mischief.

Kurt Mills, SNOPAC’s executive director, hopes that news of the arrests will stop others from targeting the towers.

SNOPAC came to an agreement with the Snohomish County Emergency Radio System, which maintains the towers used by all of the county’s police and fire agencies. SNOPAC would monitor the live feeds if their partners would install the cameras.

The Marysville camera literally was gathering cobwebs, but that didn’t stop dispatchers from continuing to monitor the tower.

“The camera is there day after day and night after night,” Smith said. “Nothing ever happens. Then one night it does. And bingo. We have got them.”

The burglary occurred just before 9 p.m.

One of the men cut the fence outside the tower. It is used for radio communication among police and fire agencies as well as the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy.

Unlike most 911 calls, Whitford wasn’t just relaying information, she was seeing it first hand and reporting her observations.

Getting information “in real time was instrumental in terms of making the arrests,” said Marysville police Lt. Mark Thomas.

The first officer arrived within five minutes and soon was joined by five others, Thomas said. They were able to surround the tower grounds and move in without the suspects knowing they were there.

Police found the men’s bicycles hidden under some straw near the main gate to the tower.

Thomas said the burglars put themselves and others at risk. Besides the possibility of serious injury from cutting live wires, there is the risk of knocking out emergency communications for people who might be needing immediate medical care, he said.

The thefts also can be expensive. By one estimate, it could cost more than $10,000 to fix the damage caused on Monday night.

Nationally, scrap metal theft costs about $1 billion annually in materials and repairs, according to one study.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com

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