08/31/2007

Fla. police flush out suspects who stole toilet parts from parks, restaurants

By Macollvie Jean-François
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

DANIA BEACH, Fla. — Most thieves leave evidence behind. These left a stench.

Two men and one woman have been arrested and charged with stealing about $2,000 worth of toilet flush valves at John U. Lloyd State Park. Detectives are investigating whether the suspects are responsible for a string of similar thefts throughout south Broward County. Valves from toilets and urinals have disappeared since May at parks and fast-food restaurants, rendering the restrooms useless.

The brass flush valves connect toilets and urinals to the walls and cost hundreds of dollars to replace. But worse, "the customers get mad because there's no water to flush," said Dario Alvarado, manager of a Miramar McDonald's where two such thefts occurred in June and Aug. 7.

On Wednesday, authorities arrested Joshua Loiselle, 22, Russell Paloor, 22, and Jennifer Bretones, 25, all of Hollywood, and charged each with one count of grand theft, said Officer David Moore, of the Department of Environmental Protection's law enforcement division. Each confessed to that day's theft, Moore said.

The suspects were seen about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, two days after 22 valves were stolen from the park's restroom, Moore said. Park rangers were extra vigilant because of the thefts.

Ranger William Sharpe noticed a woman going in and out of the bathrooms while on patrol Wednesday, Moore said. Sharpe checked the bathrooms, saw the valves were missing and ran out in time to see the suspected potty pilferers leave in a black Chrysler Concorde.

Sharpe told Moore, who had rangers bar the exit. The lowered gate proved to be no barrier when the suspects went around it and headed south along A1A, said Moore. Hollywood police joined the short pursuit moments later.

The three abandoned the car and ran through thickets, and the men jumped in the Intracoastal Waterway, Moore said.

"They ended up coming back to the shore," Moore said. "I think they were tired. They just kind of gave up with that."

Officers found receipts from a local metal scrap yard in their car.

Bryan McGannon, spokesman for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries based in Washington, D.C., said the global shortage of copper, aluminum, nickel and other materials found in the stolen parts has driven up demand and prices for all metals worldwide.

Toilet fixtures are not the only metal parts being targeted in the region. Between Aug. 17 and 19, thieves stole numerous brass devices that prevent backflow on water lines in northern Palm Beach County. Last year, robbers targeted hundreds of bronze vases usually attached to headstones at area graveyards, stealing hundreds of them for scrap metal.

The toilet thefts first occurred in southern Broward in May and picked again up this month. The 4-pound valves are about 18 inches tall and may take two minutes to loosen.

Their theft was first reported at Topeekeegee-Yugnee Park in Hollywood in May. More came this month, with about a dozen thefts reported in Davie, Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Cooper City and Hallandale Beach. Area Dunkin' Donuts, Wendy's, Burger King and McDonalds' restaurants also fell victim, police said.

"It's such an unusual theft. In 20 years, I have never seen anyone actually come in and unbolt a commode," said Bob Harbin, director of Broward County Parks, which reported 72 incidents in seven parks. It cost the county around $4,600 to replace them all.

At the McDonald's in Miramar, Alvarado said stolen chrome fixtures cost about $400 to replace, excluding labor. Besides the expense, patrons could not use the restroom for about four hours while a plumber got the part and replaced it.

The three suspects are being held on grand theft charges, each on $1,000 bond. Loiselle is at the Broward Main Jail. Paloor and Bretones are in the North Broward jail. They may face additional charges.

"At least we got them caught," said Bill Moore, a ranger and maintenance supervisor, as he re-installed the valves recovered from the trio's car. "The other parks won't have to worry about it for while."

Copyright © 2007 South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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