Police in Florida announced Friday that they had arrested a suspect in the disappearance of 166 manhole covers.
The Polk County Sheriff’s detectives launched an investigation on Wednesday after the local utility company, Toho Water Authority, reported that dozens of the 300-pound steel lids had gone missing over a period of about two weeks, a release from the Sheriff said.
A "scrap alert" to all secondhand metal dealers sparked a tip leading to Christopher Fink, 40, who was arrested on Thursday after he allegedly offloaded the covers — worth more than $22,000 in total — with Gregco Recycling.
Local authorities were not amused.
"The lack of manhole covers significantly increased the risk of harm to drivers and pedestrians in the area," said a release from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. "Toho placed temporary plywood covers over the spaces and marked each area as a hazard."
Fink was charged with 21 counts of grand theft, four counts of dealing in stolen property, four counts of false verification to secondhand metal dealer and 166 counts culpable negligence exposure to harm.
The theft of manhole covers, typically made of cast iron, is a global problem, and generally worsens when the price of scrap metal is high.
In some of other recent manhole cover disappearances, Bessemer City, N.C. in December was investigating the disappearance of 30 covers in a week according to local TV station News 14 while in Cleveland earlier this month, a driver was stopped around 1 a.m. with at least 10 stolen manhole covers and stolen storm grates in the back of his truck.
Last year, the town of Birmingham in the United Kingdom called a crisis meeting over a spate of metal thefts after 900 manhole covers disappeared in 6 months, people posing as city workers brazenly walked off with metal street signs and thieves stripped the plumbing from empty houses.
In the Indian city of Calcutta, the problem of manhole covers disappearing became so severe at one point that the government started making the covers from concrete, according to a report in the Telegraph India. But thieves took them anyway, and cashed in on the rebar embedded inside.