Categorized | Your Community, Crime

Copper Thieves & Laser Beams: Strange Event Connects Two Early Morning Crimes in El Cerrito


Two men were arrested early Monday morning in El Cerrito when their unrelated crimes coincided in a bizarre set of circumstances allowing a third suspect to escape.

It all started with a police stake out at the City Corporation Yard on Schmidt Lane, where two suspects were caught allegedly attempting to steal copper and other reusable metals, authorities said.

The undercover operation was informed by prior reports of copper theft in the city, according to Commander Michael Regan. Both the Corporation Yard and Stege Sanitary were similarly burglarized on Sept. 15, 2008. Their losses were estimated at $2,190 and $1,800 respectively.

“It’s a crime that we’ve seen increase over the last year as the value of these metals goes up,” Regan said.

One suspect, Alexander Itzigheine of San Pablo, Calif., was arrested when police confronted the two men inside the yard at approximately 2:30 a.m. The second suspect fled into the woods behind the yard with officers in close pursuit.

A California Highway Patrol helicopter with infrared equipment was called in to assist with the search.  The helicopter circled the crime scene looking for the suspect, but was forced to abandon the search when a green laser beam struck the craft and shone into the pilot’s eyes, temporarily disorienting him, officials said.

Authorities both in the air and on the ground suspended their search for the fleeing suspect to help locate the source of the laser. The helicopter crew was soon able to direct officers on the ground to a home near the corner of Moeser Lane and Seaview Drive after they spotted a man standing in a driveway.

The resident, 50-year-old Brian Butler of El Cerrito, was arrested when he was found in possession of a green laser pointer.

Commander Regan said police had no reason to believe that Butler was attempting to assist the burglary suspects when he shined the laser at the CHP helicopter. Regan called it “unfortunate” that Butler’s dangerous and illegal alleged actions had compromised the search for the second burglary suspect.

Both Itzigheine and Butler are being held at the county jail in Martinez, Calif. Butler is held on suspicion of discharging a laser at an aircraft – a potential felony – with bail set at $20,000. Itzigheine is held on suspicion of petty theft, with bail set at $15,000.

The second burglary suspect remains at large.

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