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Copper Theft Leaves Church Without Air Conditioning

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By Adam Hammons

ROCKDALE- After three churches and a home had their air conditioners stolen in Rockdale, one church is left in the heat.

"It gets pretty warm in this building even with the AC unit," Rising Star Baptist Church pastor Royal Johnson said.  "It is extremely warm in here without one."

Police arrested two men in associated with the thefts.  David Johnson is charged with two counts of theft of property between $1,500 – $20,000 from a non-profit company.  That is a third degree felony. 

Police say they picked up Johnson for a marijuana possession charge in Bastrop County.  Donald Page was in Milam County Jail as of Wednesday night with the same charges. 

In order to sell the copper in air conditioning units, many people go to Alliance Recycling in Milam County.  Jennifer Wright works at the front desk at Alliance and says she sees a lot of people come in every day. 

"This is a small town recycling center so I get to know the customers pretty well," Wright said.  "So I just put all their information in a book and since it is a smaller town, it's easier to catch them."

Wright says when people sell copper they must show and ID. She says she also writes down the description of the car and the person for anyone who is suspicious. 

Police picked up Page and Johnson on Monday after they saw an AC unit on the side of Highway 77.  After looking into it, police say the men sold the parts at Alliance Recycling. 

Wright says she buys copper for $1.10 a pound and $.80 a pound if it's dirty.  She says the main thing they steal the AC units for is the aluminum-copper reefer. 

"That is what actually the people want out of the air conditioners," Wright said.  "They don't care if they're running, they will just snip the lines."

Of the three churches who had a unit stolen, one of them says they will put up cameras and a fence to protect the others.  However, the Rising Star Baptist church doesn't have the money.

"We're going to be very, very uncomfortable," Johnson said.  "We're going to have to sweat through it.  We don't have the money or the resources to go downtown to one of the hotel conference rooms in the AC and have service.  We don't have another option."

Johnson says the insurance will pay for a new one, but that money won't come in for some time.  He says they are looking for a used one, but haven't found one as of Wednesday.

As far as cameras go, the church is building a new worship center across the street.  So Johnson says they won't be adding security to the old church.

"So it would be a wasted effort to try to continue to put something in," Johnson said.  "We'll just have to endure whatever comes out way."

Johnson says this is the second unit they've had stolen in the past two years.  In the new building, he says they hope to put cameras and set the AC unit in concrete. However, he says a thief can still find a way."

"We will do our best to make it difficult for them," Johnson said.  "And we'll trust God to continue to do the rest."