It was a few hours before dawn when police spotted the two men smudged with grease leaving the parking lot of an auto repair shop in a deserted industrial area of Glen Burnie. The men told police that they had stopped to relieve themselves, but when officers discovered a cache of car parts, tools and more than a dozen damaged vehicles nearby, they thought otherwise.
The two men were arrested and charged in connection with the theft of catalytic converters, an increasingly common crime in the county, according to police.
"We have been seeing an increase in catalytic converter theft, and we've seen an increase in metal theft in general," said Sgt. John Gilmer, a county police spokesman. "We attribute that to the cost of metal going up."
Along Holsum Way, where the two men were caught early Sunday, business owners said that they had experienced numerous thefts of metal car parts in the past year.
"People have stolen wheels right off a car and left the car sitting on the chassis," said Kathy Meadows, who owns Action Automotive with her husband, Roger. "Sometimes they get the wrong part and steal the resonator rather than the catalytic converter. It's a real loss for us because we're responsible for the cars."
Meadows estimated that parts have been stolen from cars on her lot six or seven times in the past year.
Steven D. Berry Jr., 21, of the 1100 block of Haverhill Road in Baltimore and Kenneth E. Turner, 22, of the 3600 block of Mactavish Ave. in Baltimore were each charged with 28 counts of theft, burglary and destruction of property in connection with the theft of 14 catalytic converters from cars at Harundale Towing and Rennie and Clark Towing in the 100 block of Dover Road, according to court documents.
Authorities say Berry and Turner were walking out of the parking lot of Action Automotive, which abuts the towing companies' lots, about 2:30 a.m. Sunday when they were approached by police. Both were streaked with dirt and grease and they were carrying flashlights and gloves, according to court documents.
Officers found 14 catalytic converters, a saw, a car jack and duffel bags full of tools behind a trash bin at Action Automotive. In the towing companies' lots, they found the damaged vehicles with broken windows and ringed with fresh metal shavings.
The men told police that they had cut off the catalytic converters and were planning to sell them for scrap, according to court documents.
Both are being held at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center, Berry in lieu of $395,650 bond and Turner in lieu of $260,000 bond.
According to court documents, county police jolted Berry with a Taser in August after he resisted arrest and struggled with an officer at his mother's house in Glen Burnie. He was charged with disorderly conduct, failure to obey a lawful order and resisting arrest, and was released on bail.
At a bail review hearing Thursday, District Judge Robert C. Wilcox refused to lower bond for both men. "You've got too many charges and they're too serious," he told Turner.
Sunday's arrest marks the second time in two weeks that a pair of men were arrested and charged with the theft of multiple catalytic converters. On Sept. 12, Steven J. Thompson, 30, of the 20000 block of Halethorpe Lane in Germantown and James R. Cross, 20, of the 4000 block of Orchard Ave. in Baltimore were arrested and charged in the theft of a catalytic converter in Pasadena and the attempted theft of another in Severna Park.
Police do not believe that there is a connection between the two pairs of men or that there is an organized ring of metal thieves in the county, Gilmer said. Baltimore police have also noted a recent spike in stolen metal, including the theft of 16 water meters last month from a neighborhood in the southwest part of the city.
County officers have increased patrols in areas where metal thefts are common, Gilmer said.
Meadows, of Action Automotive, says that she welcomes the increased police presence because she feels that officers have not patrolled the area enough in the past.
"We try to keep an eye on the shop on the weekend, but we just can't be there all night when the thieves come out," she said.