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Thieves pilfer pop cans

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Superior, 54880
Superior Wisconsin 1226 Ogden Ave. Ste. 1 54880

The crime takes place in broad daylight in busy parking lots. Passers-by see someone taking aluminum cans out of a trailer, but don't realize it is theft.

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"It's no different than if they walked into the arena here and stole $2,000," said John Hack, manager of the Superior Ice Arena.

A rash of recent aluminum can thefts has affected both the Superior Amateur Hockey Association (SAHA) and the Superior/Douglas County Pony Football League.

According to Hack and SAHA board member Dick Berthiaume, the first incident occurred a few weeks ago. SAHA secretary Jennifer Paulson fielded a call from a resident who saw people taking cans from the SAHA trailer in the Super One parking lot.

A week ago, Hack said he received a call at the arena. Once again, the caller mentioned someone in the SAHA trailer.

This week Paulson herself saw someone in the football league's trailer taking cans.

"This story just gets longer and longer," Hack said.

It's a tale local organizations know all too well.

"We've had cans stolen pretty regularly," said Jerry Lozon, president/commissioner of the youth football league. "I would say it's been going on a year, give or take."

Lozon said he used to empty the organization's trailer, located in the Belknap Plaza, about once every 10 days.

"Now it's down to easily once a month," he said.

The collected cans bring in thousands of dollars a year for the organization, which serves approximately 100 youth in grades six through eight. Lozon estimated more than half the group's can profits have been pilfered in the past year.

According to Len Albrecht, former president for the Superior Soccer Association, can thefts led the group to pull its trailer from circulation.

Located at the Superior High School soccer fields, the trailer was a summer fundraiser for more than eight years, Albrecht said. He estimated someone's been lifting their cans for two or three years running.

"Last year it happened so many times I pulled our trailer," Albrecht said. "We don't even put it out any more because it would never fill up."

That leaves the organization, which serves roughly 300 youth ages 6-18 a year, searching for other ways to offset the cost of sign-ups.

SAHA suffered their first major setback in 2004.

"They stole our whole trailer," Berthiaume said.

Now that they have a new trailer, the aluminum cans that fill it are being stolen. Berthiaume said he usually hauls the trailer to Simko once a month. This week, he made his first trip since December.

SAHA serves more than 300 kids a year ranging in age from 4 to 18.

"If we're not generating money from the fundraisers and such it just falls back on the parents," Berthiaume said.

Although they don't turn anybody away, he said, fees will probably rise.

Superior police have been made aware of the thefts, said Hack. Berthiaume added that officers have worked with them and offered suggestions for modifications that will make the trailer harder to get into.

"Unfortunately they've got priorities and aluminum cans are not on the top of (the list)," he said.

But, said Hack, the nature of the crime is troubling.

"The fact is that you're actually stealing from a non-profit," he said.

Assistant Police Chief Scott Campbell said the department receives occasional calls about people climbing into the can trailers. At the same time, he said, thefts of scrap metal and new material -- from copper wire to aluminum doors and ladders -- are increasing. Campbell attributed that to the rising cost of scrap materials.

According to Simko, aluminum sells for 66 cents a pound for less than 100 pounds or 70 cents a pound for more than 100 pounds.

Members of organizations that collect cans confirmed they haul the trailers away to be emptied. If anyone sees someone inside the trailers taking cans, they agreed, chances are that person is stealing.

Having an alert public could quash the aluminum pilfering, according to members of the three organizations.

"It's tough for the police department to do a whole lot about this unless we catch them in the act," Berthiaume said.

If passersby see something that seems wrong, Campbell said, they should notify police.

Maria Lockwood covers public safety. E-mail mlockwood@ superiortelegram.com or call (715) 395-5025.

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