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Airdate: 5/14/2008

Doug Thelander and his family are victims of one of the fastest growing crimes in the country…copper theft. Thieves stole several feet of copper pipes from a house owned by his dad, but in the process they cut the gas line, leaving dangerous propane gas leaking into the basement.

When his father Earl returned to his house outside Sioux City, Iowa, he plugged in a fan. The next instant, the gas ignited into a fireball.

“There’d just been a flash. Just…it engulfed him,” Thelander tells INSIDE EDITION.

Earl Thelander survived an agonizing four days.

In tears, his daughter Cindy says, “After four days, we decided we didn’t want him to suffer.”

It’s a nationwide copper crime wave. From plumbing pipes to the wires that carry electricity and phone service to your house, if it’s made of copper and thieves can get to it, they will.

One perpetrator was caught on surveillance camera stealing the copper cables inside a cellular phone tower in Texas. Another brazen thief used a fork lift to steal tons of copper wire from an electrical contractor. While still another used wire cutters to steal hundreds of feet of copper in Florida.

Copper theft has become so rampant in Detroit that whole neighborhoods are sometimes left without power, and a heavily armed task force goes after suspected copper crooks.

As for the Thelander family, they’re still trying to understand why their dad died, because someone wanted to steal the copper from his house.

The Thelanders are now offering a $5,000 reward to try to catch the crook responsible for their father’s death. Anyone with information on this case is asked to contact Monoma County Sheriff’s Office at 1-800-859-1414. All caller information and reward claims may be made anonymously.

In the past year at least 20 states have enacted tougher new laws to try to make it more difficult for thieves and scrap yards to profit from stolen copper.

To learn about copper theft legislation in your area, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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