A Seattle man convicted in what is believed to be the biggest metal-theft case in state history was sentenced this afternoon to about 12 1/2 years in prison.
A King County jury last month convicted Donald Turpin of stealing 4.3 miles of copper wiring from the Sound Transit light-rail system between November 2010 and August 2011. He was found guilty of second-degree burglary; first-degree theft, with a metal-theft aggravator; first-degree trafficking in stolen property; and leading an organized crime operation.
According to charging documents, Turpin and Skelly stole the wire from the elevated light-rail tracks between the Rainier Beach and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport stations by getting into the interstitial, an area on the underside of the elevated tracks. After getting inside using wrenches and ratchet straps, the thieves walked for miles underneath the tracks with access to several types of wires.
The documents allege that the men used bolt cutters to cut the wire and then dropped segments to the ground, where they would pick them up later in the night.
Turpin made approximately $50,000 in profit, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. He had a state-issued business license that allowed him to scrap the metal with little, if any, scrutiny by scrap-metal buyers.
The replacement cost of the 55,000 pounds of copper wire was more than $1.3 million, the prosecutor’s office said. The copper itself was worth more than $200,000.
But the men apparently worked up a thirst as they walked the light-rail line stealing wire, and they brought Gatorade bottles with them into the interstitial. Those bottles helped investigators after Sound Transit track inspectors discovered the theft in May 2012.
DNA evidence from the Gatorade bottles was key, along with numerous interviews with the suspects and their associates, according to charging documents.