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Seattle Man Convicted in Largest Metal Theft in State History

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A Seattle man convicted in what was likely the largest metal theft in Washington state history was caught after authorities found his DNA on Gatorade bottles and other items, prosecutors said.

Donald Howard Turpin, 55, spent nine months wriggling underneath miles of elevated light trail track, yanking 55,000 pounds of copper wiring and dropping it to the street below, according to the King County Prosecutor's Office.

A jury convicted Turpin of burglary, theft, trafficking in stolen property and leading organized crime. He faces 12 to 16 years behind bars.

Turpin and his accomplice, Lee Skelly, 45, crept into maintenance hatches in the tunnels underneath the Sound Transit Light Rail Tracks and pulled out 4.3 miles of copper wiring used to ground "stray voltage" in the track system, prosecutors said in a statement.

Turpin then used a state-issued business license to scrap the copper, which netted him roughly $50,000 in profits, prosecutors said. The stolen copper wire was worth upwards of $200,000 and would cost approximately $1.3 million to replace.

The thefts took place between November 2010 and August 2011.

"This crime shows the astounding lengths that some criminals will go to take what isn’t theirs," county prosecuting attorney Dan Satterberg said in the statement. "This was an assault on our public transportation infrastructure."

Turpin was ultimately caught after investigators discovered DNA evidence on Gatorade bottles, among other items. Track inspectors had noticed the theft in May 2012.

Skelly, Turpin's accomplice, was also convicted of theft for his participation. He faces up to 90 days in jail, the Seattle Times reported.

— Daniel Arkin

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