Joliet police recover 200 stolen sewer grates, arrest three men
By Brian Stanley email@example.com February 16, 2012 7:46PM
Joliet Police Department evidence technician Jeff Fornoff (right) and Det. Tizoc Landeros (left) walk past recovered sewer grates at Lockport Metal Recycling Inc., Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, in Romeoville. Joliet police have arrested three men for allegedly stealing hundreds of grates and manhole covers. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 18, 2012 8:21AM
JOLIET — Police have arrested three men they say are responsible for stealing hundreds of sewer grates throughout the area in recent months.
Cmdr. Brian Benton said the city was notified Friday afternoon that a man in a tan Dodge van was removing a sewer grate from the 2400 block of West Jefferson Street.
“The theft was captured on video, and a street department employee spoke with the staff at (the nearby) Walmart,” Benton said.
The next day, the employee was driving near a local scrap yard when he saw what appeared to be the same 1984 Dodge Ram van.
“The scrap yard was closed and the van turned around, and when the streets worker tried to get close in his city truck, it sped away,” Benton said. “But he was able to provide part of the license plate.”
Public works director Jim Egan and police Chief Mike Trafton checked records and found 63 grates and manhole covers had been taken since November, but not all of them had been reported to police as thefts.
“And on Monday afternoon, the burglary unit became the sewer unit,” Trafton said.
Using the partial license plate and description, officers matched the van to one registered to a relative of David A. McClelland, 27, of 115 Independence Ave.
Police attempted to get a warrant to place a tracking device in the van, but recent case law changes prevented it from being issued Monday.
“And overnight (between Monday and Tuesday), 26 grates were stolen from the Parkwood area,” Trafton said.
After those thefts and an attempt in Lockport that was reportedly witnessed by Joliet police, Assistant Will County State’s Attorney Mary Fillipitch was able to get a judge to issue a warrant for the tracking device.
Police began tracking the van around 3 a.m. Thursday.
Around noon, the van went through the Marycrest and Parkview Estates areas on the west side.
“In a 15-minute period, officers watched them remove 16 sewer grates and put them in the van,” Trafton said. “The grates weigh about 100 pounds, but it takes about 10 seconds to remove one.”
Officers stopped the van at Springfield Avenue and West Acres Road to arrest McClelland and two other men: Robert L. Myers, 31, of 1451 S. Abbott Road in Homer Glen, and Bradley Lewis, 30, homeless, according to jail records. Sixteen sewer grates were found in the van.
After detectives questioned the suspects, they went to Lockport Recycling, 20630 Gaskin Drive in Romeoville, and received consent to search the premises, Benton said.
“There were 10 pallets of sewer grates, weighing a total of 5 tons on the property,” Benton said. “The proprietor said one of the suspects told him he’d gotten the grates from a relative who owns a construction company, and he was waiting on a receipt before they were scrapped.”
A city dump truck was sent to pick up the grates Thursday evening, but not all of the 200 grates and covers appear to be from Joliet.
Police have reported similar thefts in Lockport, New Lenox, Romeoville and Shorewood that may be linked to these suspects. Detectives from those departments were scheduled to question the suspects Thursday night.
Lockport has reported 15 recent grate thefts, police said.