HAMMOND — Police have released the names of two suspects arrested Friday night in connection with a rash of copper wire thefts in Northwest Indiana and neighboring Illinois communities.
Diquan N. Ray, 23, of Burnham, Illinois, and Jossean M. Echevarria, 30, of Hammond, are currently in custody, according to a Hammond Police Department news release.
Ray and Echevarria have been charged with one count each of theft, a level 6 felony. Federal charges are anticipated.
The suspects, who have been under surveillance, were observed at about 1:55 a.m. Friday coming out of the Cook County Forest Preserve in Calumet City, according to police.
Hammond police conducted a traffic stop in Hammond, recovering a large amount of copper wire within the vehicle. Ray and Echevarria are the primary suspects in these crimes. However, additional suspects may be identified and charged as the investigation continues.
"We are certain that these two individuals are the individuals behind the copper wire thefts that have been ravaging our city over the last few months," Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said in a social media posting. "State charges are expected to be filed today against these two individuals. We are asking the FBI to intervene and file federal charges against them as well."
Lt. Steven Kellogg said the investigation was a true all-hands-on-deck effort with the cooperation of the Hammond Patrol Division, Hammond police detectives, the Narcotics and Gang divisions, Lansing police detectives and the FBI Gang Responsive Investigative Team task force.
"We would like to thank the public for keeping their eyes open and supporting our efforts over the past few weeks," Kellogg said. "Although the cash reward wasn't used in this case, the true reward is getting these criminals off of the streets and protecting our communities in the process."
McDermott said he will be following the arrests up with civil lawsuits on behalf of Hammond residents to try to recoup the hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.
The two suspects are being held at the Lake County Jail.
The Hammond Police Department on Aug. 17 sought the community's help catching thieves stealing copper wiring from the city's decorative light poles. At the time, police reported more than 10 recent thefts.
Hammond police said many of the thefts happened in the Robertsdale area and North Hammond, but that incidents had occurred throughout the city.
The Hammond Police Department was offering a $25,000 reward for the arrest and prosecution of those responsible.
Schools hit with thefts
East Chicago Central High School and Clark High School were both hit last week in a string of copper wire thefts targeting light poles on the schools' athletic fields.
"It's happened to us, it's happened in Hammond, it's happening all over the place," Steve Segura, East Chicago city spokesman, told The Times. "These people know what they're doing. They're hitting several places. This is not just an isolated incident and it's causing millions of dollars in damage."
Monica Maxwell, East Chicago Central High School director of athletics, said the school discovered Tuesday that eight light poles had been vandalized. The wiring had been cut and the copper was stolen from four light pole banks on the football field and four light pole banks on the soccer field.
"Whoever is doing it is hurting kids in exchange for a few dollars and it's unfortunate these kids have to pay for it," Maxwell said.
On Tuesday, it was discovered Clark High School also had been hit by copper wire thieves again, according to football coach Nick Testa.
Earlier in September, Gavit High School had to reschedule a football game against East Chicago Central due to copper wire theft. The original game date also happened to be the same evening as Gavit High School's special athletics alumni event.
Check back at nwi.com for updates as this story develops.