Detectives in Vestal say criminals are targeting neighborhoods hit hard by Tropical Storm Lee over a year ago. Investigators have already arrested one man, and they're looking for others connected to the crimes. But as our Elyse Mickalonis tells us, they say neighbors should be watching out for each other in the meantime.
VESTAL, N.Y. -- "About 19 years ago, met my wife, and fell in love with the house and here's where we ended up,” said John Skibitzki, a Vestal resident.
A home John Skibitzki, 75, vowed to fix up after Tropical Storm Lee ravaged the Twin Orchards neighborhood last year, a project that was almost complete when detectives say someone broken into it.
"Went to the cellar door, looked down, oh shucks, must have broke a water line, walked down about two inches of water on the floor,” said Skibitzki. “Where's all my copper?"
Sgt. Christopher Streno, Town of Vestal Police Detective, added, "Over the last month or so we've experienced a high number of complaints from this Twin Orchard neighborhood of previously flooded homes being broken into and the copper pipes being stolen out of the basements."
Detectives say Mikhael Bugayov, 26, is accused of stealing copper pipes from flood-damaged homes in Broome County. He was arrested and charged with felony third degree burglary.
"I'm glad the police department is on their toes and did catch them, the person who did this. I think the whole neighborhood feels better,” said Skibitzki.
Investigators say Bugayov admitted to breaking into homes and stealing copper pipes from about 10 homes in Twin Orchards last year, around the time Irene and Lee hit the area. Now they’re searching for others connected to these crimes.
"We don't think he acted alone, at least not every time and we think there are other people out there that are responsible and we're going to continue this investigation and hold them responsible as well,” said Streno.
Detectives say people living in flood recovery areas should keep an eye on their neighbors and their neighbors’ homes, even if those houses are empty.
"We would like to hear from anybody who might have information regarding this case or similar cases,” said Streno. "We always stress, neighbors should watch over neighbors. Always call is you think something suspicious is going on. We'll determine if it's suspicious."
And while detectives search for more people involved, Skibitzki says he’s once again going to have to replace all of the copper pipes in his ongoing effort to return to normal.
The investigation is on-going. Anyone was information is asked to call Vestal Police at (607) 754-2477.