Highlands pair arrested in heist

A burglary in progress call led to the arrest of two cell phone tower thieves in Chambers County.

Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said at approximately 5:30 a.m. Friday, his office responded to a call of a possible burglary in progress at a Verizon Wireless tower on FM 565 in Baytown. 

“We’ve had three burglaries in cell towers in the last three days,” said Capt. John Leger, one of the lead investigators. “Criminals were forcing their way inside to steal wiring and equipment from the cell phone tower infrastructures in Chambers County.”

Hawthorne said Deputy Braedon Boznango responded to the call followed shortly after by Corporal Cornelius Roundtree.

“They were able to take two suspects into custody without incident,” Hawthorne said.  

Jesse James Newman, 40, and Julie Pepper Napier, 47, of Highlands, were found to be in possession of numerous burglary tools and were subsequently arrested, transported to the Chambers County Jail, and charged with burglary of a building. Hawthorne said they are still in jail as of Friday night and the judge has not set a bond yet. 

“I am very proud of our deputies quick response and apprehension of the two suspects,” Hawthorne said.

Hawthorne said the thieves mostly break into the towers looking for copper and batteries. 

“They take it put it on the black market,” he said. “I have been involved in passing some new laws to make it harder for them to sell it. But they still have ways of getting around the law.”

Leger said arresting the thieves is a huge deal, especially for anyone that uses a cell phone or similar device. 

“It is so important we catch these folks,” Leger said. “If they get inside the tower and steal this equipment, they could shut the whole tower down. We lose cell service, and we all know how important that is to us these days.” 

Leger said if cell phone towers go down, the effect could be long-reaching. 

“In this day and age, we all expect to grab our cell phones at any moment in time,” Leger said. “If a tower goes down, that not only affects our personal use, but it could 9-11 services, which would affect us in emergencies. It has effects that people just do not think about.”

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