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DNA leads to bust of huge King County copper theft

King County prosecutors say DNA on Gatorade bottles helped lead to charges in what's believed to be Washington state's largest copper theft ever. (AP image)

King County prosecutors say DNA on Gatorade bottles helped lead to charges in what’s believed to be Washington state’s largest copper theft ever.

Prosecutors charged two men Monday for stealing approximately 4.3 miles of copper wiring from the Sound Transit Light Rail System.

Donald Howard Turpin, 54, and Lee Russell Skelly, 44, charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree trafficking in stolen property.

“Stealing miles of copper wire must be hard work, because it was the defendants’ Gatorade bottles left at the scene which ultimately was their undoing,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg.

The thefts took place from November 2010 through August of 2011. The two allegedly entered maintenance hatches in a tunnel that runs below the light rail between the SeaTac and Rainer Beach Rail Stations.

The pair allegedly committed all their crimes at night, dropping the wire through air vents and then driving along the line and picking it up at various locations.

Investigators discovered the men took the wire to various scrap metal recycling businesses in King County. Prosecutors say Turpin netted approximately $39,000 while Skelly received over $4000. The replacement cost of the 70,000 pounds of copper wire is estimated at $1.3 million so far.

“This crime shows the astounding lengths that some criminals will go to take what isn’t theirs,” said Satterberg. “The defendants in this case literally stripped away at our public transportation infrastructure,” he added.

Arraignment is scheduled for June 27. Both defendants are currently at large.

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