Copper thieves strike again in Columbiana

COLUMBIANA – An electric substation on Fitzpatrick Avenue appears to be too tempting for those looking to generate easy cash, and the most recent attempted theft is strikingly similar to one that occurred there in October of last year.

On Monday city police arrested one man and issued a warrant for another, later found by Salem police, for attempting to break into the substation to steal copper.

According to Columbiana police reports, an anonymous caller reported at 1:37 a.m. Monday he could hear someone “banging metal” along the fence at the substation and saw two men there.

When police arrived they saw no one, but around 2:12 a.m. officer Brandon Ericsson was patrolling the area and saw a vehicle driving along North Main Street that had been parked near the substation earlier. He initiated a traffic stop after the driver made a violation and spoke with the man, Gerald A. DiPanfilo, 61, of Salem, who then admitted to breaking into the substation with another man to steal copper for scrap.

DiPanfilo was charged with breaking and entering and driving under suspension and taken to the county jail.

Police Chief Tim Gladis said DiPanfilo identified the other man as Lance Dangelo, 23, also of Salem, during interviews.

Police attempted to find Dangelo near the substation using assistance from Beaver Township police, who provided their K9, but the search led nowhere.

“We got a warrant issued for him. We notified Salem police and they were able to pick him up for us,” he said.

According to the Salem police report, Dangelo was found in the attic of a home on the 1000 block of East State Street around 5:40 p.m. after the resident gave police consent to search.

He was then taken to the Columbiana station where he was charged with breaking and entering. He appeared in Columbiana Municipal Court Tuesday and a preliminary hearing was set for Aug. 11.

DiPanfilo appeared in municipal court on Monday and a preliminary hearing was set for Aug. 7 for the breaking and entering, driving under suspension and turn signal violation charges.

In October police arrested Michael Nagel of Columbiana after he was caught stealing 68 feet of copper wire from the same substation. He pleaded guilty to theft and criminal damaging in municipal court in January and was sentenced to 10 months in prison with credit for 84 days served.

His accomplice, Jonathan Cook, also of Columbiana, was able to flee the scene but was later apprehended after Columbiana police issued a warrant for his arrest.

The stolen material amounted to roughly $3,500.

Cook appeared in municipal court last week and wished to pull his previous guilty plea, opting for a jury trial instead. Judge C. Ashley Pike is considering the request.

Gladis said he does not believe DiPanfilo and Dangelo are familiar with Nagel and Cook and do not believe the thefts are related.

“People go over where they think the valuable material is. What they don’t realize is a lot of that stuff nowadays is not pure copper, it is copper coated,” he said.

He added the department was “lucky” to have a resident living near the substation who was alert enough to catch the men before any material was actually stolen.

“They were basically jumped before they had a chance to get anything of value,” he said.

He added he is not sure how Dangelo got back to Salem.

Columbiana officers who responded to the call with Ericsson were Matt Jones and Sgt. Jim Ewing.