A tip led Effingham County Sheriff’s deputies to uncover what is alleged to be tens of thousands of stolen scrap metal.
Saturday morning around 7:30, deputies Matt Petrea and Jason Fondren pulled over a truck hauling a trailer loaded with what was said to be scrap metal. It turned out to be quite an arrest for the ECSO.
"We didn’t know the trailer was stolen also," Fondren said.
The truck belonged to Charles Wayne King Jr., 39, of Brooklet, but the trailer didn’t. And deputies found it was full of metal that didn’t belong to King, they said.
Fondren and Petrea waited at the county line for King. They noticed he had obscured the tag on the trailer. He had bent the tag, the deputies said, to keep the metal company from seeing it.
When deputies and state
Department of Transportation officials finished inspecting and weighing the trailer, they discovered it had 55,000 pounds of illicit scrap metal, they said.
Fondren and Petrea asked King for his driver’s license and asked him for information on the vehicle.
"He didn’t know anything," Petrea said. "He said it was scrap metal. We asked him what he had, and he said, ‘a little bit of scrap metal.’"
"When he gave that story," Fondren added, "it just didn’t add up."
That’s when deputies asked if King minded if they had a look.
"He was very helpful — up to a certain point," Petrea said. "Once he saw we were catching on, he just quit."
King told deputies he loaded the scrap metal from his yard into the trailer with a crane. But deputies uncovered he had taken the metal from Omni Source recycling company in Swainsboro. Fondren said he noticed the metal appeared to be stamped, as if they were items of machinery parts.
At first, King told deputies he owned Omni Source, so deputies called the Swainsboro Police Department. That department dispatched a sergeant to check with the security gate at OmniSource.
That led the deputies to call in the DOT.
"He didn’t figure out we could get him," Petrea said. "We were still trying to add everything up at that point."
Fondren said they reached King’s father, who is the yard manager at OmniSource, and Fondren said King’s dad told them he allowed his son to use the trailer, "but he didn’t know anything about him hauling the metal.
The ECSO was trying to reach the superiors at OmniSource, headquartered in Fort Wayne, Ind., "and he found us," Fondren said.
As deputies informed King of what they had against him, "he said, ‘y’all do what you go to do,’" Petrea said.
King also had been using Highway 80 to avoid the DOT scales on I-16, besides his trailer being slightly overweight. The 55,000 pounds of metal is estimated to be worth $40,000. King also did not have his truck registered and did not have insurance, the deputies said.
"The DOT was happy to be writing out those tickets," Fondren said.
ECSO spokesman Detective David Ehsanipoor said the case remains under investigation, and the authorities are tracking down where King was taking the stolen metal. King apparently had been making this run once a week for a year, and his total illegal haul was worth $300,000.
The ECSO is working with the Swainsboro Police Department and OmniSource’s corporate security in King’s case.
"They’re playing a role in this investigation," Ehsanipoor said.
And it all sprang from a tip Fondren received, allowing him and Petrea to wait at the county line for King.
"You get a bunch of these tips all the time," Fondren said. "One in 100 pan out."
Said Petrea: "We were sitting in the right place at the right time."
Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said metal thefts across the region are on the rise, and he was in a class last week where the issue of metal thefts was discussed. In the last week, deputies have made seven arrests in metal theft cases, including one where an estimated $20,000 worth of metal was taken from a business on Hodgeville Road.