East Side Story
Copper thieves hit Buckingham Road
by David Erik Nelson
On the evening of October 13, residents on Buckingham Road smelled gas.
As a DTE technician fruitlessly wandered the neighborhood with a flashlight and digital detector, neighbors recalled that one house, which had sat vacant since the owner's death, had an unfinished renovation. They discovered that a twenty-foot length of copper gas line had been carefully unscrewed from its junction at the side of the renovated garage and then roughly snapped off where it peeked out from beneath the half-finished carport. Natural gas blew freely from the ragged stub of pipe.
The home's owner, Mike Johnston, was killed this past March. A tow-truck driver, Johnston was pulling a drunk driver out of a ditch when a second drunk sped past flares and police and slammed into him, killing him instantly.
Johnston's neighbors let themselves into his tidy brick bungalow, where the DTE man finally found the meter in the back of a closet, cranked it shut, and sealed it with a brass lock. Meanwhile someone found a copy of Johnston's obituary and was able to contact his sister. She explained that the house was still stuck in probate. Although no payments had been made on the mortgage since March, Countrywide Home Loans had yet to make a claim. Three days later a sketchy pair of contractors arrived to drill out the front locks and replace them with a padlock.
Asked whether their arrival meant the property was in foreclosure, a contractor shrugged: "Well, when it's in foreclosure-foreclosure, they have us come through and change all the locks."
[Originally published in December, 2008.]