Copper thieves may force church to close

Source: WYFF
Source: WYFF
Source: WYFF
Source: WYFF
SPARTANBURG COUNTY, SC (WYFF) - When Claude Thomason went to turn on the thermostat in the sanctuary of Whitney Baptist Church in Spartanburg County on Thursday he had his fingers crossed. For now, it's the only room in the historic church with air conditioning because of thieves.

"I've taken all I can take," said Thomason, a deacon and life-long member of the church.

On Sunday morning, Thomason came in to turn on the thermostat in the nursery and nothing happened. He went outside to look at the unit itself.

"I seen the wires cut. They cut about a 3-foot section out," Thomason told News4's Mike McCormick.

For Sunday's service they moved the children to the third floor because it could be cooled.

On Monday morning, Thomason came back and found that thieves had returned.

"They cut the main Freon line to that No.1 unit to the second floor," he said.

On Tuesday night, he stayed at the church hoping to catch the crooks in action.

"I was mad enough I would've shot them. If I would've caught them out there I would've shot them, and that's not the way you're supposed to be," Thomason said.

Nothing happened, so he left Wednesday morning and then came back that night.

"They ripped all the copper and the lines out of units two and three for the second and third floors," he told McCormick.

The only unit left untouched was the one that cools the sanctuary.

After seeing the church where he grew up hit by thieves three times in four days, Thomason was brought to tears just talking about it.

"If it keeps going like this and they don't stop it or can't catch these people, if they get our main air conditioning, we're not going to be able to fix it and we'll have to close. We've struggled and we've kept it, we've kept the church open," Thomason said as his eyes filled with tears. "I mean, all kinds of difficulties that we've had, but it's getting to the point where it's disheartening."

Thomason said it will cost thousands of dollars to make repairs and insurance will help, but first a $1,000 deductible has to be met. The congregation only has between 12 and 22 people on any given Sunday and that barely brings in enough money to pay the electric bill.

"All three units, it's just killed us," he said.

Thomason said this Sunday, they'll find a way to keep the children cool without keeping them in the sanctuary. On Thursday, the thermostat in the nursery read 88 degrees.

"We'll just give the kids some fans and maybe some water balloons, put them in the basement so they won't get hurt," he said.

On the front of the building a plaque built into the brick shows 1889 as the year the church started. Knowing that 2011 may be the year it closes is something Thomason said he can't handle.

He has hope for the justice system, but his faith ensures him that the thieves responsible will pay in some way.

"I think there's really going to be a hotter place for them for doing stuff like they've done to this church," Thomason said.

Copyright 2011 by WIS. All rights reserved.