Would-be robbers weighed down in attempt to get the lead out

The Gannon and Benjamin boatyard on Vineyard Haven harbor in the winter. The theft occurred at a nearby storage yard. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to try to get the lead out. Corey M. Dechaine of Tisbury and James C. McFarland of Bridgewater learned that lesson Monday.

Tisbury Police arrested the two men for attempting to steal a 1,000-pound piece of lead from property off Oak Hill Avenue Extension. They got caught in the act by property owner Ross Gannon and Tisbury Special Police Officer Jon Parker.

Mr. Gannon is one of the owners of the wooden boatbuilders Gannon and Benjamin (G&B) Marine Railway in Vineyard Haven. Monday, he stopped by the Oak Hill property around noontime to pick up a piece of lumber. The two men drove up in a blue pick-up truck. When they saw him, they started to back out.

“I walked over and asked if they needed help,” Mr. Gannon told The Times in a phone conversation late Monday afternoon. “They said, ‘Wrong turn, sorry.’ I hadn’t noticed anything amiss, but after they left, I saw the piece of lead, and I saw tools scattered around they’d left behind. I thought maybe they were connected, maybe not.”

Mr. Gannon said he returned to his shop to check with his employees, to make sure no one had made arrangements for someone to pick up the lead. None had, so he called the Tisbury Police Department. Sgt. Rodney Silvia told Mr. Gannon to stop by the station, where he was met by special officer John Parker who returned with Mr. Gannon to the property to document the incident.

Caught in the act

“I took him up there, and there the two guys were, with their truck backed up to the piece of lead, trying to get it up in the back,” Mr. Gannon said. “They were doing all kinds of maneuvers. I don’t know how handy they were; I’m skeptical they would have gotten it into the truck in one piece.”

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I pulled in and they were there,” he added. “After lying to me and pulling out in their truck, I thought they won’t be back, even if they were the ones that tried to do it earlier.”

Officer Parker called for backup, and Officer Michael Gately arrived within moments to assist, according to the police report. The two men were frisked and no weapons were found.

Both men admitted to taking Mr. Gannon’s property, according to police. Mr. McFarland told the police officers he was going to take the lead to New Bedford to scrap it.

“One of the guys claimed – and he doesn’t know how to tell the truth – that his wife told him nobody has been on that property for 30 years and that it didn’t belong to anybody, so whatever was there was up for taking,” Mr. Gannon said. “I don’t know where that mentality comes from.”

The two men were arrested and officer Parker transported them to the Dukes County Jail for booking. Officer Gately recovered a Sawzall as evidence.

After learning of the arrest on Monday, Oak Bluffs Police Lt. Tim Williamson contacted officer Parker, to add a story that supports the often expressed view that the Island is a small place.

Lieutenant Williamson visited Ace Hardware about 4:30 pm Saturday. “He was off duty and was behind Dechaine in line who was inquiring about a Sawzall blade that would be able to cut through thick lead,” Officer Parker said in his report.

Mr. Dechaine, 29, and Mr. McFarland, 35, entered pleas of not guilty. They were both charged with one count of larceny over $250 and arraigned in Edgartown District Court on Monday.

The felony carries a penalty of not more than five years in a state prison or two years in jail, and not more than a $25,000 fine. The Commonwealth did not request bail and the men were released on personal recognizance. A pre-trial hearing is set for February 21.

Why lead?

When asked about what might motivate someone to steal lead, Mr. Gannon said it is worth about $1 a pound, so the piece almost stolen from him is valued at $1,000. G&B collects lead from salvaged boats and takes it to a foundry in Providence to be recast for lead keels for other boats, he explained.

“What it says to me is something about the state of the economy, if it’s worthwhile for these guys to try to get 1,000 pounds of lead into the back of a pickup truck to take to the scrap yard for a few dollars,” Mr. Gannon said.

G&B also hauls many other types of scrap metal to A.W. Martin in New Bedford, which requires a photo I.D. from customers.

“They pay you in cash, so that way, if you’re hard up for a few dollars, that would be a place to go,” Mr. Gannon said. “But there’s a lot easier stuff to take there than lead.

“These two guys didn’t know how to cut it,” he added. “You can use a chainsaw or a Skill Saw to cut lead, but they had purchased a Sawzall. It would have taken them all day to saw this piece of lead with that.”