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Cherry Road businesses feel the heat after thefts

Women getting haircuts and kids doing gymnastics tried to keep cool Monday at a Cherry Road shopping center. But without any air conditioning, it wasn't easy.

Thieves climbed onto the roof at Cherry Park Centre over the weekend and took rooftop air conditioning parts belonging to at least four stores, including a former Winn-Dixie grocery, police and tenants said.

The thieves took copper linings from inside the units, which can fetch more than $3 a pound on the scrap metal market, said Lt. Jerry Waldrop of the Rock Hill Police Department. Between 400 and 500 pounds of the material was taken, tenants said.

"There's a breeze today, so we're surviving," said Debbie Philbeck, a stylist at Hair Savvy salon. "If they had to do it, it would've been much better to happen in the wintertime."

At Thomas Gymnastics, co-owner Mark Bonsky said he explained the situation to parents and left the doors open to let in air while his students practiced.

Detectives investigating the case acknowledge they have little to go on.

"We've had it done in Rock Hill several times lately," said Waldrop. "They hit us regularly two or three months ago. It's not just here; it's somebody traveling around doing it."

In Greenville on Friday, police said a man was electrocuted as he tried to steal copper from a Duke Energy substation.

Police around the country are reporting an increase in thefts because scrap metal prices are at an all-time high. The problem is particularly severe along the Gulf Coast, where metals are available at construction sites springing up after Hurricane Katrina.

Authorities consider the thefts a crime of opportunity. Construction sites and shopping centers are often left unguarded at night, allowing thieves to take materials and leave little or no evidence behind.