LAWRENCE — As far as Samuel Facella is concerned, crime has reached a new high in the city’s downtown area.
A thief climbed up to the slate rooftop of his family-owned steel mill at 600 Essex St. this week — perhaps twice — to steal the antique copper flashing from the century-old building that houses Flametech Steels Inc.
“This guy has gotta be ‘Spider-Man’ to get up there, because it’s as high as any church steeple,” said Facella, 53, president of the company.
“It’s over 60 feet in the air. I can’t imagine anyone being comfortable up there. The talent and ability this guy had to get up there is like an acrobatic feat. No one in their right mind would have that much confidence. I’d be scared without safety lines attached. I wouldn’t do it and I’m a former iron worker,” he said.
Facella said he encountered the fearless thief at about 1 p.m. on Wednesday after returning from lunch. He recalled hearing some noise, thinking it was the wind. So, he went outside to check, just in time to see something coming off the roof.
He noticed a man holding the copper material. The stranger told him he had found it on the ground.
But, then he looked up and saw another man up on the roof, who was throwing the copper material down to the man on the ground.
“My family has been running a steel mill in Lawrence since 1960, and I’ve never seen this kind of marauding behavior,” Facella said.
“I’ve never seen anything this bizarre. I couldn’t believe it. A guy is up on the roof, risking his life for short money. You could have robbed a bank easier,” he said.
The startled thief climbed down from the roof. Facella figured he had the crook cornered and could keep an eye on him until the police arrived. Soon after calling emergency 911, he said he told the suspect that officers would soon be arriving to arrest him.
“But as soon as I mentioned the police, this guy was just like ‘Spider-Man.’ He climbed right over the chain-link fence and took off,” Facella said.
Facella said he later learned that the police might know who the suspect is and that his photo was taken by a security camera at a metal salvage business, just a couple of blocks from the steel mill.
An employee at the salvage business told Facella yesterday that suspect apparently brought some of the copper flashing over to sell on Tuesday
“So, I find out that this guy has been up on my roof twice this week, and that the cops know who he is and are looking for him,” Facella said.
“They (thieves) took a couple of hundred pounds of copper flashing. It’s antique copper flashing because the building is over 100 years old — the original Pacific Mills complex. They took 200 feet off the building. Now, the water will get under the shingles. Once the water gets in, it will start to freeze and the shingles will pop off,” he said.
Facella said he’s troubled that the salvage business didn’t question strangers hauling in a shopping cart full of copper wire or other material stolen from his mill.
“This copper theft is getting out of hand,” Facella said.
“They’re stealing things in broad daylight and cashing it in down the street,” Facella said.
“How can anybody be so brazen? My answer to that is that because they can get away with it. It’s like the forgotten zone in this part of the city, because nobody seems to care about it,” he said.
This was the second time in recent weeks that Flametech Steels got hit by thieves looking for copper and other material they could sell.
Last month, thieves pried metal from the back of the warehouse and made off with 400 pounds of copper wire, 100 feet of welding cable, extension chords off the wall and several tools.
Facella said it cost about $1,200 to have an electrician rewire the facility. Even worse, he said, Flametech was shut down for several days because of the loss of equipment and access to electrical outlets.
“I know Lawrence is not the city it used to be,” Facella said.
“It’s gotten to the point where I can’t go home at night without having to worry about somebody peeling my building apart,” he said.