SPRING HILL — Just a week into the new year, Hernando County is already facing a crime spree — and some of the area's most benevolent organizations are the victims.
Thieves have stolen copper tubing from well more than 20 air-conditioning units, and among their targets, the criminals have raided three churches and a Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
"It is a shame any time our citizens are preyed upon by thieves," said Hernando sheriff's Lt. Harold Hutchinson Jr., "but it is even more painful when they target those that serve our citizens like our churches and veteran groups."
On New Year's Day, thieves broke into six air-conditioning units at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Yontz Road, north of Brooksville.
Just after midnight Monday, someone stole copper tubing components from six huge air-conditioning/heating units at VFW Post 10209 on Edward R. Noll Drive in Spring Hill.
About 1 a.m. Wednesday, components were taken from another five units at Nativity Lutheran Church on Commercial Way in Weeki Wachee. That was the second time in two weeks someone had ripped off units at that location.
Late Wednesday evening, criminals struck again at Christ Lutheran Church off North Avenue in Brooksville. All five of the church's units were dismantled.
The cost to repair all of the damage will be substantial.
Though the VFW post's insurance carrier is expected to cover the cost to replace its six units, officials said the post must pay the $1,000 deductible and for some damaged heating strips estimated to cost $6,000.
"We're just holding our own right now," VFW commander Lou Lessner said of the organization's financial situation.
Post officials have begun planning a fundraiser, likely a musical entertainment gala, to raise the needed cash.
Lessner received a call from a security company early Monday morning after an outdoor motion detector had been triggered at the post. A search dog followed a trail from the facility and into the nearby woods until the scent vanished at a road.
"You could tell the way they dismantled (the units) with screw guns, it wouldn't have taken long," Lessner said.
The Sheriff's Office has asked local scrap yard dealers to report any large amounts of incoming copper.
Anyone with information about the thefts is asked to call the Sheriff's Office at (352) 754-6830 or the Brooksville Police Department at (352) 540-3800.
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1432. Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.