A thief walked out of a North Lawrence home with less than $10 worth of copper water pipes and left behind thousands of dollars in damage.
Gene and Evie Normandin discovered they were victims of a burglary before they even moved into the home they recently purchased. As Gene Normandin, 47, a plumber, entered his still-vacant home last month, he noticed a broken window.
"When I walked in, I was being sprayed in the face so I knew something was really wrong," he said.
Apparently - after getting in through the window - someone cut two water pipes, each less than a foot long, Normandin said.
"It was really very frustrating," he said. "I didn't think that it was someone probably that had experience in stealing copper because they didn't see if the water was off."
An estimated 4,000 gallons of water flooded the house in about 36 hours.
"Basically three or four rooms just had water flowing across them," he said.
In the basement, the water flooded the furnace and hot water heater.
Normandin's wife, Evie, 31, sees copper theft as just "a sign of the times."
And she's right.
As the price of copper has increased throughout the years, so has the number of copper thefts.
In Douglas County, more than $8,000 worth of copper has been reported stolen so far this year, according to Lt. Steve Rector of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. That surpasses the thefts reported during all of last year.
Kim Murphree, Lawrence Police spokeswoman, said copper most commonly was reported stolen from construction sites.
Rector said he suspected if the price of copper remained high deputies might see more thefts this year.
That's more than likely, according to a national expert on scrap metal.
Nationally, copper sells for $3.74 a pound. In March 2007, copper was selling for $2.91 a pound.
"That's a rather dramatic jump," said Bruce Savage, vice president of communications for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a national trade association for the scrap recycling industry based in Washington, D.C.
"It's due to the old Economics 101 - supply and demand," Savage said. "Demand is far outstripping supply right now," in both the domestic and international markets.
Copper fits right in with the rising demand for commodities such as oil, wheat and rice, he said.
"International markets such as Brazil, Russia, India and China are leading the way in demanding these materials and they are willing to pay for them," Savage said. "And that's driving the prices up."
At Lonnie's Recycling Inc., 501 Maple St., "people bring in copper everyday," employee Lisa Schmitt said. She said people brought in "anywhere from two pounds to 400, depending on who it was." Lonnie's pays $2.20 a pound for copper.
At 12th and Haskell Bargain Center, owner Bo Killough pays $1.45 to $1.90 a pound, depending on how clean it is. Killough said he had caught quite a few people trying to sell him stolen copper. But it's hard to know if the copper was stolen.
If, for example, someone brings in a load of 100 pounds or more, or something else strikes the center's employees as odd, they make a copy of the person's ID and call the police.
"It's sad right now the way people are breaking into houses stealing everything," Killough said.