Theft at Empire Energy coal mine likely will cost Peabody Energy more than $500,000
June 21, 2014
Craig — Empire Energy coal mine, out of service but maintained by Peabody Energy, lost about $500,000 to $1 million in the form of theft and damage after a botched burglary took place May 12.
The Moffat County Sheriff's Office apprehended three individuals it suspects were involved with the burglary, said Lt. KC Hume, operations chief for the Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff's Office currently is investigating to find more information and see if others aided in the theft.
"An employee of Peabody Energy had arrived at that location (and) had found individuals and trucks parked in a warehouse in an area where they should not have been," Hume said.
Duane Newton and Mark Burress were arrested May 12 fleeing the scene with stolen copper and other salvageable metals, while the alleged accomplice Kimberlee Vanpeursem was arrested two days later, according to the arrest affidavits.
Newton and Venpeursem are currently in custody on bond for $100,000 each, but Burress was released on a lesser bond, $5,000, that was reduced because a family member committed suicide. Burress still is held on a warrant and will be required to appear at Moffat County Court on July 1 for a bond return hearing, said Donna Zulian, administrator and communications director for the District Attorney's Office.
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The three are charged with second-degree criminal trespass, theft, criminal mischief and second-degree burglary, among other charges, Zulian said. Burress also was charged with introducing contraband and possession of Schedule 2 drugs because of the methamphetamine found, Hume said.
"We are working with Peabody Energy and their representatives to determine how much property was stolen and damaged," Hume said. "Conservatively, we are estimating it's in excess of $500,000."
The group allegedly was trying to make a big haul by stripping copper wires and other metals from the mine's warehouse. The materials were worth upward of $250,000, Hume said. But the damage to the structures is what drove the cost up.
According to the affidavits, Brian Watterson, an employee with Peabody Energy, made the 911 call.
"Watterson stated he found several individuals inside of the warehouse, and they were not authorized to be there," according to the affidavit.
When the three suspects busted out of the warehouse, they drove through the closed garage doors, leaving gaping holes that could cost Peabody Energy about $70,000, Hume said.
Sgt. Todd Wheeler responded and found Newton parked under the access road. When asked why he was there, Newton said "he was meeting friends to do a reclaim of the property," according to the affidavit. Wheeler further inspected Newton's truck and trailer and found it was filled with copper wire, according to the report. First, Newton said he picked up the stolen items in Denver. Next, he suggested "someone else must have put them on the trailer without his knowledge," and then he refused to answer, according to the affidavit.
Rick Stillion, from Twentymile Coal Co., identified the items as stolen from the mine warehouse, according to the arrest report.
Burress got a bit farther than Newton did and went off the road with his truck and trailer. But he was apprehended by the Sheriff's Office, Craig Police Department and Colorado State Patrol, Hume said.
The Sheriff's Office is investigating to see whether anyone else was involved, Hume said.
"We're continuing to identify individuals that either have affiliations or relationships with the three primary suspects of the case and their ties to Moffat County," he said.
"We encourage anyone who has information to contact the Moffat County Sheriff's Office or the Crime Stoppers line. They can remain anonymous," Hume added.
Newton is facing an additional charge of theft, with an added bond of $5,000, because after investigation, Wheeler found that Newton was storing a stolen camper trailer in Moffat County.
Newton will be up for a review hearing July 8, and Vanpeursem's court date is June 24.
Peabody Energy did not respond to calls before press time.
The Craig Daily Press will continue to follow the hearings and investigations related to the case.
Contact Erin Fenner at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.