Tracing Tracy Territory: Lack of arrests in glass factory thefts
by Sam Matthews
Feb 15, 2013 | 3464 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A series of thefts of platinum wire from the local Owens-Illinois glass-container factory is a puzzling ongoing saga.

Several recent articles in the Press have covered aspects of the thefts, believed to number seven at the O-I plant off Schulte Road west of town.

How there can be that many thefts of the same kind, some at the point of a gun, without any arrests of known suspects is one of the most confounding aspects.

Indeed, platinum is valuable, listed at $1,725 an ounce in the commodities exchanges this week, a shade more than the value of gold.

At the O-I plant, platinum wire is used in the furnaces that burn as hot as 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The most recent theft occurred Feb. 3, when platinum and rhodium wire valued at $5,000 was taken. At market value, that would amount to less than a half-dozen ounces of wire.

According to Les Garcia, the former Tracy cop who is the public information officer for the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department, a plant employee came across two men in a stairwell carrying the wire. One of the intruders pulled out a handgun and gestured to the employee. Both got away.

But let’s go back several months — to Nov. 5. That was the day sheriff’s Deputy Steve Buettner was called to the O-I plant to investigate an attempted theft of platinum from machinery, an act that caused $20,000 in damage in the process.

Buettner’s involvement came to light last week when he was named the sheriff’s department Officer of the Year by the local American Legion, which cited his investigation of the O-I case as one of the reasons.

Buettner found a handgun and a BMW left at the plant by two would-be thieves who were interrupted in their heist by plant employees. The pair then allegedly carjacked a Tracy woman’s car — and allegedly kidnapped her —to make their way back to the Bay Area.

There seems to be a definite Bay Area O-I connection. O-I’s Oakland plant had been the victim of platinum theft five times in October, and the suspects were captured on surveillance video, according to the San Joaquin Sheriff’s Department.

Buettner identified one would-be thief at the Tracy plant from fingerprints and also determined that the handgun had been stolen.

He worked with Oakland Police Department officers to identify the second person through video surveillance. The ID was confirmed through auto registration records and fingerprints.

Sounds as though the cops have a solid case, but so far there have been no arrests. Unconfirmed reports are that the Oakland Police Department said it didn’t have the resources to track down the suspects.

No doubt, the Oakland PD is short of officers and battling almost-daily fatal shootings, but the lack of arrests in the Nov. 5 case at the Tracy glass plant with a possible connection to continuing theft attempts in that Bay Area city is troubling, especially for the company and workers at the factory.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at shm@tracypress.com.
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