Thieves boost dozens of batteries from Wake school buses; some later recovered

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comJuly 18, 2013 

— Sometime overnight Wednesday, someone made off with more than 3,000 pounds of batteries from Wake County school buses parked at a high school just south of downtown.

By mid-afternoon, police say they arrested a man who was trying to sell 17 of the batteries to a salvage and recycling yard about five miles away.

Police have not released the man’s name, but Ronnie Thompson, co-owner of the salvage yard, said he is Harvey Uras Jones.

Jones, 31, of 2616 Holiday Drive in Raleigh was being held in lieu of $10,000 bail Thursday pending a court appearance on one count of possession of stolen property and one count of attempting to obtain property by false pretenses.

Police say the 17 batteries they recovered were among 61 taken from school buses parked overnight at Southeast Raleigh High School on Rock Quarry Road. Police said 44 batteries remained unaccounted for late Wednesday and that they had not charged anyone with being the person or persons who took them from the vehicles.

A bus mechanic discovered the thefts just after 5:30 a.m. Soon after police arrived, investigators began calling salvage yards and other places where the thieves might attempt to sell the batteries for a quick profit.

Thompson, owner of TT&E Iron and Metal at 1529 West Garner Road, said his employees scanned Jones’ driver’s license and took photos of his car after the arrived in a Mazda and said he had some batteries he wanted to recycle.

“The scale man told him to pop his trunk,” Thompson said. “It was a small Mazda car. You would have never thought he had 1,000 pounds in the trunk. That was all the scale man needed to see.”

TT&E workers scanned his driver’s license, took pictures of the car and the cache of batteries in the trunk, weighed the vehicle and called Garner police, who arrived in two minutes.

The batteries weighed 957 pounds. At 23 cents a pound, the man’s haul would have totaled $220.11, Thompson said.

“I’m sure if we had taken that first load he would have brought in three or four more loads today,” he said.

Raleigh police arrived shortly after Garner officers. Raleigh police took the man in for questioning about 3 p.m., said spokesman Jim Sughrue.

An arrest report shows that police charged Jones at about 9 p.m. after questioning him at the Downtown District station on West Cabarrus Street.

Thompson said the police also towed away the Mazda.

Thompson said labels had been torn off the batteries, but that they were easy to identify from pictures provided by police. “It was obviously the same batteries,” he said.

The buses parked at Southeast Raleigh High serve 11 schools. All except two – Barwell Road Elementary and North Garner Middle – are not in session this week.

A few bus runs were delayed by the thefts, said Renee McCoy, a spokeswoman for the Wake County Public School System.

The district, buying in bulk, pays about $63 for one of the 50-pound batteries, far more than their value as scrap, McCoy said. Mechanics found that the thieves used tools, disconnecting the batteries rather than cutting cables, she said.

Officials hoped the thieves would draw attention to themselves by trying to sell large quantities of the batteries, McCoy said.

“These are not an easy product to move,” she said.

Police asked that anyone with any information call Raleigh CrimeStoppers at 919-834-4357 or to go to the CrimeStoppers website for instructions on how to report a tip online or by text message.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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