Drug raid leads to copper thieves - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Drug raid leads to copper thieves

By Taylor Barnhill  - bio | email 

LADONIA, AL (WTVM) - Three people are in jail with a laundry list of charges stemming from an on-going investigation involving churches in east Alabama. The Russell County Sheriff's Office and Phenix City Police Department's PAIN team was conducting what they thought was an ordinary drug investigation, that lead them to more than they expected.

On Wednesday, officers carried out a search warrant at this home on Ponderosa Drive in Ladonia, busting up a meth lab. The suspects pulled up to the home and attempted to drive away, but they didn't get far, wrecking just a few yards from the home.

Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said, "In that vehicle there were several copper air conditioning coils. The subjects confessed to six church burglaries in our community."

Russell County deputies arrested 23 year old Melvin Barnes, 32 year old Roger Burling and 19 year old Crystal Lee, not only for the manufacturing and sale of methamphetamine, but then theft was added to their rap sheets.

"At Faith Ministries they had several of the big units that were on their property and I believe they would hit one then come back the next night and hit it again. It was in close proximity of time with all these," Taylor explained.

The suspects got away with hundreds of dollars worth of copper, but the damage they left behind at six local churches was much more.

"You're talking about a total of $40,000 in damage to that church with two thefts of air conditioners." Sheriff Heath Taylor says this isn't the first time something like this has happened, "The connection there is in our community between drugs and theft is obvious and we all know that, but certainly we were successful this week."

But he adds copper theft may continue to be a cross to bear in this area, "Our churches are victims to this type of thing because they're not there all the time, sometimes its days between when someone was there."

Faith Ministries, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, St. Paul AME Church and Seventh Day Adventist Church were all burglarized.

Barnes, Burling and Lee are all facing a wide array of charges connected to these crimes including: possession, distribution and manufacturing meth, theft and child abuse. Their bond has not been set.

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