July 25, 2014

Elyria
Sunny
65°F
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Cops to copper thieves: Hands off St. Joe’s

LORAIN — Copper remains a hot commodity among thieves, but Lorain police officers want would-be crooks to know the St. Joe’s Community Center is not the place to score.

The community center has been targeted by thieves in recent weeks, but police are hoping an arrest made early Saturday will send a clear message to stay away.

“If you think you are going to go in the building and steal, know we are watching and will arrest you,” said Lorain police Lt. Les Palmer.

The arrest happened just after 12:30 a.m. Saturday. According to a police report, officers saw a man walking near St. Joe’s with a large duffle bag slung over this shoulder. A rash of break-ins at the building piqued the officer’s interest the man.

Soon officers found a broken window on the building and, with the aid of a building employee, went into the building and began looking for the man.

Palmer said officers were getting ready to search the third floor, where a theft of copper took place earlier in the month, when they heard someone trying to get out of a first floor door. Officers quickly made it out of the building and followed snowy footprints until they spotted the man with the bag.

Palmer said Robert E. Perry Jr., 47, of Elyria, took off running on Broadway, cut through the parking lot of Reidy Scanlan Giovannazzo Funeral Home and kept running with the duffel bag hitting his hips with each stride.

Perry made it all the way to West 22nd Street before he was caught by officers and arrested. He was charged with breaking and entering, possession of criminal tools, obstructing official business and resisting arrest.

Palmer said Perry told officers he was “only trying to get enough for a fix.”

Officers suspect Perry is responsible for other break-ins at the community center.

Inside his duffel bag, which also contained a pipe cutter, wire cutter and screwdrivers, was a receipt from where he sold copper to a recycling facility. The receipt was dated Jan. 22, a day after a thief was reported Jan. 21.

The former St. Joseph’s Hospital has been plagued by cooling and heating problems, leaks and a lack of tenants. Only the first of the building’s five floors, parts of which date back to when the hospital opened in 1892, is occupied. Among the tenants are a satellite branch of Lorain County Community College, the Lorain Sports Hall of Fame, local offices of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, and U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley Township, and a Veterans Affairs clinic.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.