Theft

The thieves who broke into the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Gillburg maintenance yard didn’t stop with violation trespassing laws, as a spokesman for the state agency said they stole the catalytic converters off eight pickup trucks.

HENDERSON — Thieves have put a significant crimp in the operations of the N.C. Department of Transportation’s road-maintenance yard in Gillburg by stealing the catalytic converters off three-quarters of its pickup trucks.

Vance County Sheriff Curtis Brame and DOT spokesman Marty Homan said the theft occurred over the weekend, after the thieves cut through the yard’s wire fence.

Homan said they then stole the emission scrubbers off eight trucks, getting two from each for a total of 16. It’ll cost DOT an estimated $9,600 — $1,200 per truck — to repair them, and they’re out of action until the work is done.

Brame’s office is investigating, and so far in comparing notes with other law-enforcement agencies in the state has heard of converter thefts in Brunswick and Halifax counties.

“Right now we’re getting intel from different sheriff’s offices and other cities to see if we can compile the data we have together, like footprints and stuff like that, shoeprints,” Brame said.

Catalytic converters have been a necessary part of vehicle emission systems since the 1970s, and serve to remove significant quantities of toxins from engine exhaust.

They’ve long been targets for thieves because they contain precious metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium that are growing in value on the scrap market. The New York Times reported in February not only that demand for the metals is up, but supplies have tightened because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on mining.

Recognizing the problem, North Carolina nominally bars scrap dealers from buying catalytic converters that aren’t attached to a vehicle. But there are loopholes, namely that dealers can buy from a “company, contractor, or individual that is in the business of installing, replacing, maintaining, or removing these items.”

When they do, they have to take the seller’s fingerprint along with other information to log the transaction.

Virginia allows the purchase of catalytic converters and other “proprietary articles,” with transactions logged to include such information as the seller’s ID and vehicle license number.

In theory dealers in Virginia can ask for a bill of sale or other documentation to show that the seller is the rightful owner of a converter, or conduct “a diligent inquiry” into the seller’s legal right to the goods. Then the deal has to record “a photographic or video image of all proprietary articles” in the exchange.

The dealer has to keep the images for “no less than 30 days” and show them to any law enforcement officer who asks, Virginia’s law on “secondhand articles” says.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.