Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
An alert wildlife enforcement officer Saturday nabbed two men suspected of stealing catalytic converters from the cars and trucks of fishermen who left their vehicles unattended near High Rock Lake.
The arrested men, both from Kannapolis, drew attention to themselves when they threw beer cans out of their vehicle.
N.C. Wildlife Officer Jeremy Harrill had been patrolling access areas along the reservoir as part of an effort by his agency and the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office to catch the catalytic converter thieves in the act.
Harrill stopped a vehicle on River Road near Basinger Road when he noticed its occupants throwing out beer cans.
In detaining the two men for littering, Harrill spied a catalytic converter in a duffel bag inside the car and immediately called sheriff’s deputies for assistance.
Since last fall, someone had been stealing catalytic converters from underneath the vehicles of fishermen who parked in access areas, got into their boats and fished all day on the lake.
A catalytic converter reduces the toxicity of emissions from a car’s engine. It’s attractive to thieves because it can be unbolted or sawed off quickly.
The value comes from the platinum and small amounts of other precious metals contained in the converters, which can be sold for scrap. Shady repair shops also sometimes purchase stolen converters.
Catalytic converters have been required by law in every vehicle operated in the country since 1975.
The men arrested Saturday were Billy Joe Barnhardt Jr., 38, of 2250 Kendra Drive, Kannapolis, and Wayne Harold Thompson III, 26, of 122 Wayne Ave., Kannapolis.
Each man was charged with one count of felony larceny for allegedly stealing two catalytic converters, worth $1,400, belonging to Rob Sayaphet on Saturday.
They also face misdemeanor larceny charges for the thefts of catalytic converters from eight other individuals since last fall.
In charging documents, sheriff’s deputies said the thefts occurred between Oct. 8, 2007, and Saturday.
The value of each converter was put at $700.
The victims of the other thefts include James Spencer, George Greene, Gregory Baker, Jerry W. Allman, Ryan Ruble, Todd Morris, Sam Miller and William Wallace.
Besides the loss of the catalytic converter, a vehicle owner then faces the expense of repairs, which can range from $400 to $1,500, according to authorities.
Barnhardt and Thompson each was placed under $10,000 bond Saturday. Their first appearance in District Court is scheduled for Tuesday.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or