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Copper thieves hit Nile Garden 3 times in 2 weeks
Parents sit and relax as they enjoy the annual Medieval Faire put on by teacher Tim Lewis and his seventh graders in the school courtyard. The school has been hit by copper theft for the third time in the past two weeks. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Two men woke up by the dawn’s early light on Wednesday. Both were driving quads.

But there the similarity ends.

Arnold “Butch” Rothlin, Jr. was up early as usual to take care of business at the farm. A third-generation farmer, he raises all kinds of hay for dairy feed. These are busy days for him and his wife Rose, cutting and baling alfalfa and other cow-feed crops. But at that hour, he was hauling hay to feed the cows.

The other man beat the morning sun that day with the intent to steal copper wires at Nile Garden School. He wore a black shirt with a white long-sleeved undershirt, and a black stocking cap over his face.

As Rothlin drove his quad along the west side of the school, he noticed the man who did not appear to belong in the area and looked suspicious judging by his attire. He then observed the man drive out of the orchard on the south side of the school in his racer-style quad with high fenders at a high rate of speed. Rothlin followed the unknown suspect through the orchard. But as the fleeing suspect turned left going east toward Union Road, Rothlin lost visual contact.

The incident was the third time in two weeks that Rothlin caught perpetrators pulling copper from buildings and portables on the school campus.

The copper thieves sometimes use the pall of darkness to hide their criminal acts. Last Sunday, Rothlin caught a quad – he was not sure if it was the same one he chased on Wednesday morning – at about 8:30 in the evening doing the same thing at the school.

He tried to chase the thieves with his quad but “they were too fast for me,” he said. There were two people on the quad during this particular incident, Rothlin said.

The Rothlins happen to have the phone number of the school janitor and reported the incident to him.

Unfortunately for the perpetrators, and fortunately for the school, Wednesday’s suspect was unable to run away with the stolen loot. San Joaquin County Sheriff’s deputies who responded to the theft report located in the almond orchard south of the school seven rolled-up copper wire cables, each about one-and-a-half-inch in diameter and 120 feet in length. The recovered items were turned over to Nile Garden School custodian John Tsirelas who estimated the damage to be approximately $10,000.

Manteca Unified Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke confirmed that Wednesday’s incident was the third time within the month that copper has been stolen from Nile Garden.

“It’s unfortunate but we had been hit quite a bit the last few years” by copper thieves not just at Nile Garden but in other schools in the district as well, he said.

When incidents like that happen, and school is in session, classes are disrupted by the resulting power outage.

The vandalism also means the district has to spend money from the general fund to repair the school facilities affected. The district has insurance to recover the repair costs.

To minimize being the target of copper thieves, the district has put in place several steps to protect the schools.

“We try to repair things with products that may be less enticing to steal when we can,” Burke said.

Instead of using copper in the repairs, they use aluminum which doesn’t get the same recycling value as the brown metal and, hopefully, will discourage theft and vandalism, he said.