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2 charged with church copper theft

COVINGTON - Two brothers were arrested and charged with burglary and criminal damage to property last week after they were caught stealing copper from a vacant building on church grounds by a minister.

Shortly after 2 p.m. Nov. 29, the minister of Salem Methodist Church on Salem Road was checking on a vacant building on the property when he noticed the electric meter box was open, according to a Newton County Sheriff's Office incident report completed by Deputy Steve Walden.

Upon entering the building, the minister told authorities he heard sawing and a banging noise coming from underneath the house, just under the area of the hot water heater.

After calling the church office to have someone call 911, he then went to the rear of the house where he found the crawlspace door open, at which point one of the suspects, Travis Ray Law, 22, of 135 Mildred Lane, Covington, reportedly exited the space while talking on a cell phone, according to the NCSO report.

When asked what he was doing under the building, Law reportedly said that he was looking to rent the house.

The minister continued to talk with Law until deputies arrived, at which time he was taken into custody.

Walden, along with Lt. Steve Gunnells, then crawled under the house where they spotted Law's brother, Jack Erick Law, 24, of 100-A Plum Orchard Drive, attempting to hide and he was subsequently arrested.

Surveying the damage, Walden said he found copper pipes cut and piled up, as well as holes in the ceiling of several rooms, cut electrical wires and light fixtures that were damaged.

Last week, another alleged copper thief, Kenneth Grindle, 25, of 260 Country Creek Road, Newborn, was caught attempting to allegedly dissemble an air conditioning unit at Academy Springs Park.

Once in custody, Grindle also admitted to damaging five air conditioning units at the Starrsville United Methodist Church on Dixie Road earlier in November.

Lt. Bill Watterson, spokesman for the Newton County Sheriff's Office, said it's going to cost the church more than $4,000 to repair the damage done to the units.

Grindle has been charged with criminal trespass, loitering and prowling, theft by taking and two counts of criminal damage to property.

Watterson said that they have seen a spike in the number of copper thefts over the past several weeks, which he said can probably be attributed to the Christmas shopping season getting under way.

Joel Griffin can be reached at joel.griffin@newton citizen.com.