Updated: May 24, 2011 at 12:00 am
Two men suspected of stealing backflow valves and copper pipe from schools, parks, homes and businesses were arrested Sunday after a traffic stop in southeast Colorado Springs.
Investigators believe William Matuska, 44, and Bruce Williams, 48, committed more than 50 thefts over the past six to 12 months, causing an estimated $150,000 worth of damage.
They are being held in the El Paso County jail on $50,000 bond apiece.
Both men were under investigation for several months by the Scrap Metal Theft Task Force, which was in the process of obtaining search and arrest warrants.
Before the task force could arrest them, however, Matuska was stopped by a Colorado State Patrol trooper on suspicion of drunken driving about 3:30 a.m. Sunday at Aeroplaza Drive and East Fountain Boulevard.
Initially, Matuska was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license.
During a search of the vehicle, Colorado Springs police, assisting on the DUI stop, found backflow valves and tools for cutting large pipes.
Williams, who was a passenger in Matuska's vehicle, initially was released. He was arrested later after police found the evidence linking the two men to metal thefts.
Court records show that Matuska has three convictions in the past six years, pleading guilty twice to forgery and once to fraud. No other information was available about his previous convictions.
Police said at least three other arrests for copper theft have been made in Colorado Springs since Friday.
Thefts of metal, particularly copper, to sell as scrap have been an ongoing problem in the Pikes Peak region for several years. Pipe and wire have been stolen from construction sites, stripped from buildings and from street lights.
In December 2010, Colorado Springs police announced the arrests of five suspects linked to a copper-theft ring believed to be responsible for $2 million in theft and damages from June to December 2010.
Historic plaques also have been stolen from city parks, including a brass plaque pried off a rock last August on the west side of Garden of the Gods park.
A bronze statue also was taken from outside a Woodland Park business. Part of the statue was recovered, but the Garden of the Gods plaque has not been found.