Woman’s house taken away piece by piece|[01/10/08]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Vicksburg woman is heartbroken after little progress in the investigation of the continuing vandalism at her rental house at 1851 Georgia Ave,

LaKeisha Berry, 34, has filed four police reports over the last year. The reports were made on April 17, Sept. 18, Dec. 10 and Dec. 31. She said her fiance has also made several reports for her.

Her first report said that it was a burglary in which copper wire and air conditioners were taken from the house, said Lt. Bobby Stewart of the Vicksburg Police Department. Since then, Berry said the vandals have destroyed the walls by ripping paneling and molding off the walls and pulled down a ceiling fan. They went back again and took the storm doors and stripped everything in the attic. They even went back and took the toilet.

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“The house was boarded up and there were bars up,” Berry said. “If they are thieves and they want it, they are going to get what they want. It’s ridiculous.”

“I’m surprised they haven’t gotten this,” she said as she pointed to the last remaining hinged door in the house. “They even took every plug out of the walls, I guess for the copper.”

Berry moved away from the home off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard east of Mission 66 and started renting it. Berry said that the house was special to her because she obtained it on her own and she raised her daughter there.

“Even though the neighborhood is bad, it’s still a shame when something like this happens to something of yours,” she said through tears. “It’s not a bad house. I don’t know why you would trash someone’s house because no one is living here.”

Berry still has to pay property taxes on her rental home. She said that she could buy another home with the amount it would take to fix it because of all the damage.

“It would cost over $20,000 because of all the rewiring,” she said. “It’s like you were building a new house. I’m just sick of this and wish I could get someone to tear it down. You shouldn’t have to go through this.”

Police are patrolling the area to make sure there is nothing going on, she said. It keeps happening though. She said she is not blaming the police, but the system.

“There needs to be a better way of handling this,” she said. “There is no identification for copper theft. I know that this is happening all over Vicksburg, even the nicer areas, too.”

Copper theft is on the rise in Vicksburg, especially in vacant homes and businesses, Stewart said. The metal is usually sold by the pound to recycling centers in cash transactions.

There have been 75 to 100 reports in the city of copper theft. No specific number can be obtained because copper theft falls generally under larceny and malicious mischief and precise records are not kept. Four arrests were made in the city in 2007 related to copper theft, Stewart said.

Deantonio Austin, 23, 126 Marguerite Drive, and Willie Swartz III, 21, 237 Smith Road, were arrested for commercial burglary. Jerod Gleese, 38, 1611 Lane St., was charged with commercial burglary and grand larceny. Robert Stevenson, 30, no address, was arrested for five commercial burglaries and one home burglary.

“It’s hard to trace,” Stewart said. “Descriptions are vague on who brings in what. Unless you catch them in the act, it’s hard to make arrests.”

Robert Keyes, owner of Keyes Recycling, 4385 U.S. 61 North, said his business pays $2.55 to $2.60 per pound for No. 1 copper. Keyes said that his company does everything it can to work with the Vicksburg Police Department, the Warren County Sheriff’s Department and other counties. Keyes said that everyone who sells to his business is on camera.

“We have had people try to come and steal from us,” Keyes said. “We have video surveillance and caught them on camera. We have had one get prosecuted.”

Catching them in the act is hard when you are without video cameras. Berry said that the neighbors are even scared to make reports. She said people aren’t looking out for one another. It’s hard for her to believe that this keeps happening.

“I don’t know how anyone could do this in their mind,” she said. “If you go to church and you believe, you will feel the same way. It used to be you look out for me and I look out for you, but that’s changed. People are just out for self.”

Roderick Pilate, a neighbor in the area, said he has lived there all his life and hasn’t ever seen it this bad. The people just go into houses and take everything, he said. He described the area as drug-infested where the “dealers and addicts are busy 24 hours a day.”

He has asked police to patrol the area, but he said he has never seen them around. The Vicksburg Police Department depends on the community to help them but they aren’t doing anything, he said. His advice was for them to come into the areas where the crime is happening.

“I go to work at 4:30 in the morning and people are walking around,” he said. “I work six days a week and never see an officer. Everybody is wide open. Nobody’s hiding. Nobody’s afraid.”

“The vandalism is atrocious,” he said. “I don’t understand how someone could take all your appliances and wiring and no one sees them taking all this stuff.”

Pilate didn’t describe the neighborhood as all bad. He said many hard-working, church-going people live there. He still has hopes that the area will turn back around.