COVINGTON -- Newton County is being hit hard by a series of unusual thefts that are creating a safety hazard for unsuspecting residents.
According to Deputy Director of Newton County Emergency/Risk Management Jody Nolan, manhole covers and storm grates are being pried up and stolen from roadways at an alarming rate.
"With what's been stolen so far, we're in the $7,000 to $10,000 replacement price range and that's just the ones we know about," he said.
And the problem doesn't stop there.
The openings that are left exposed when the covers are taken are large enough for an automobile tire to go into, or worse, an unsuspecting person could fall into one.
"If you've got a kid out riding a bicycle in a subdivision ... well, you can imagine. It's hard to comprehend that someone would put individuals at that kind of risk," Nolan said. "Our employees can't concentrate on the work we need to do because of the liability of somebody falling into one of these holes."
Nolan said in one subdivision 12 manhole covers were stolen. Before crews could replace them, six more were taken. In another subdivision, 25 storm drain lids were taken.
"They've even gone back to the same neighborhoods as many as three times," said Newton County Roads Superintendent Robert Griffith, who estimated 65 to 70 manhole covers and around 20 storm grates had been taken this year.
"And they're taking them right in front of occupied residences," Nolan said.
Nolan said the manhole covers were fairly easy to remove, although they weigh 30 to 40 pounds each. But the storm grates can weigh up to 100 pounds and require a good bit of chiseling and digging, yet the thieves are doing it and nobody is reporting the activity.
"Somebody is buying them somewhere," he said. "The recycling centers in Newton County have been contacted about this."
As public works crews replace the covers, they are welding them down, but Nolan said it would be an impossible task to do as a prevention measure throughout the county.
Nolan said it was a felony to buy the stolen items and it is a felony to possess them.
"We'll prosecute to the fullest extent of the law," he said.
The Newton County Sheriff's Office is investigating the thefts and Public Information Officer Courtney Morrison said patrols have been increased with deputies on the lookout for the thieves, but she said the department is asking that citizens phone 911 the minute they see suspicious activity.
"Try to get a vehicle and tag number," Nolan suggested.
"The sheriff's department is well aware of it and are trying to help us out," Griffith added. "We're hoping people will become aware of it and if they see somebody around the covers or grates that shouldn't be there or if they see one missing, they'll call it in."
The number to report a missing cover is 770-784-2097.
Nolan said if people are not reporting these crimes because they think, "They're just stealing from the county," they should think again.
"They're actually stealing from you. It's taxpayers' money that is being spent to replace them."
Anyone with information on these thefts can call the NCSO at 678-625-1400. Tips can also be given to the NCSO anonymously at 678-625-5007 or through its website at www.newtonsheriffga.org and clicking on "anonymous tips." Those who want a response from NCSO personnel should leave contact information.