Man Charged in Dozens of East Tennessee Copper Thefts

Hamblen County (WVLT) - Copper thefts are sweeping the region.

Dozens of those cases in several East Tennessee counties may be solved now after an arrest in Hamblen County.

Volunteer TV's Rob Pratt has more details.

David Scott Gray, 28, is in the Hamblen County jail where he is charged in connection with 16 copper thefts at churches and buildings under construction.

Detectives say the 16 incidents in Hamblen County may only scratch the surface.

This investigation already extends to Jefferson, Greene, Hawkins and possibly other counties.

Detectives say David Scott Gray has been a busy man since March.

That's when he was released from prison in Kentucky.

It's also when copper started to disappear at an alarming rate from churches and buildings under construction in several East Tennessee counties.

Detectives say they asked Gray how many of the thefts he was responsible for.

"His statement to me was there are so many it would blow your mind," said Det. Kevin Gentry, with Hamblen County Sheriff's Department.

Detectives say Gray is cooperating, but even he can't even remember all of the places he went.

One of the places he allegedly ripped off was close to the heart of the detective who helped break the case.

"Holt's Baptist Church, where I go to church at got hit. Three heatpumps units was stolen there. Instead of going to church that Sunday, I was going to fingerprint the heatpumps," said Det. David Stapleton, with the sheriff's department.

Serial numbers matching those on the stolen heatpumps were on pieces of at least six heatpumps recovered from the yard of the home where police say Gray has been staying.

After Gray was arrested on a cocaine charge Tuesday night, all the pieces finally fit together.

But police say they did not do it alone.

All kinds of recyclable metal comes into Southern Waste Services in Hamblen County.

But it's copper and it's soaring price that generates interest.

Detectives learned that Gray sold some copper there, thanks to records that the owners keep.

"Most of the time, we just get their information and if law enforcement questions anything, we have the information to give them," said Scott Burgin, Co-Owner of Southern Waste Services.

Detectives say Gray may have averaged at least $150 a day.

Gray remains jailed in Hamblen County with bonds totalling more than a $100,000.

He's scheduled to be arraigned next week on charges in the 16 cases.

Dozens more may follow across the region in the coming weeks


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