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Database helps police recover Veterans Memorial lights

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Randy Halstead became angry after learning that several brass light fixtures bought by his Kanawha City recycling business had allegedly been stolen from the West Virginia Veterans Memorial.

Police say they found the woman who allegedly sold the fixtures with Halstead's help and from information he entered into a national database that tracks missing and stolen items.

On Nov. 18, a woman brought five brass light fixtures to Halstead's business, Capitol Recycling. She said the fixtures came from inside a swimming pool that was being demolished, Halstead said.

He had no reason not to believe the woman, and bought the fixtures for a total of $2,000. Before completing the transaction, Halstead explained to the woman that he needed her driver's license to enter into the national database.

Kanawha County officials paid for access to the database, called Leads Online, just last year. Lawmakers passed ordinances requiring county pawnshop owners and recyclers to enter everything they buy into the database. Police can then search the database for items that people have reported stolen or missing. 

Capitol Police Officer M.S. Swecker went to Capitol Recycling last week with photos of the stolen brass light fixtures. Halstead said he immediately handed the fixtures over to Swecker after learning they came from the West Virginia Veterans Memorial. He then pulled up security video of the woman inside his store.

"We recognized her," Halstead said. "She comes here quite often."

Through the information Halstead entered into Leads Online, Swecker identified the woman as Amanda Suzanne Young, 32, of Charleston. Young was arrested last week and was charged with receiving or transferring stolen goods, a felony. She is currently in the South Central Regional Jail in lieu of a $10,000 bail.

The investigation is continuing and more arrests could be made, said Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

Halstead said he's impressed that the Leads Online database helped catch Young. Most of the items he buys, such as copper wiring, cannot be easily traced through the system.

"Unless something has a serial number, there's no way we can tell where it came from," Halstead said.

Kanawha County Cpl. Brian Humphreys said that although the database is new to the county, it's been instrumental in helping police find allegedly stolen items already.

Charleston police raided a pawnshop on the West Side last October after its owner allegedly failed to enter information into the registry. Detectives recovered jewelry reported stolen. South Charleston police raided a survival shop along Washington Street West last September. The owner had allegedly bought stolen electronic equipment and failed to report it.

Humphreys said the database has its limitations, however. Not everything that's reported stolen can easily be traced, he said, such as equipment without serial numbers.

Halstead said he was subpoenaed to testify against 30 defendants for transferring and receiving stolen items last year. None of those cases went to trial, he said. He believes a lot of these cases can be traced to a prescription pill abuse epidemic.

"When I handed the light fixtures back to the officer, I asked him, 'Will you please help these people?'"

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.

 


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