But the 23-year-old Grand Haven man found out the hard way that the heavy metal lying next to the tracks is not up for grabs.
Although police say metal thefts are not common in the Grand Haven area, there still is some of it going on.
Vanzee entered a no-contest plea to a charge of larceny of less than $200 instead of proceeding with a bench trial that was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Ottawa County's 58th District Court. Judge Craig Bunce sentenced Vanzee to pay $124 in restitution and $400 in fines and costs, or serve 40 days in jail.
Vanzee told the judge he has a job and asked for time to pay the fine. He was given until Nov. 29.
Vanzee apologized profusely to the judge, police officers and a representative of Mid-Michigan Railroad following the hearing.
Office Jay Paulson of the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety discovered Vanzee and his father, Dirk Vanzee, while on patrol on Aug. 8.
“I saw this car backed up to the railroad trestle off Coho Drive,” Paulson said. “They had cut the back seat out of the car and had a couple rails in there.”
Dirk Vanzee is facing charges of larceny of less than $100 and resisting/obstructing a police officer.
“He took off and ran on me,” Paulson said of the elder Vanzee. “I had to chase him down.”
Paulson said the men planned to sell the metal for scrap. During the court hearing, Joshua Vanzee said he realized now that was the wrong thing to do.
It’s common to see scrappers pulling things out of dumpsters or picking the stuff up on the side of the road, Paulson said. More daring scrappers take metal from factories and abandoned buildings.
“We had a lot of this when scrap prices were up a few years ago,” the officer said.
Ottawa County assistant prosecuting attorney John Scheuerle said his office handled a lot of cases of metal theft during the recent recession.
“Companies are smarter these days," he said. "They take more precautions with their supplies."
Lt. Mark Bennett of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department said they have not handled any scrap metal theft cases recently. However, he noted that 16 new automotive batteries were taken from Downtown Auto in Grand Haven Township at the end of August. Police are still looking for information on what happened to those batteries.
A pricing list on the Sikora Metals Inc. (of Detroit) website, as of Oct. 5, noted they pay $8 each for car or truck batteries.
Spring Lake/Ferrysburg Police Chief Roger DeYoung said metal theft is not a big problem in his community, although there have been a couple of them in recent weeks.
Earlier this week, about $30 worth of scrap metal and nearly $4,000 worth of magnesium pipe were taken from a Ferrysburg business, said Detective Corey Allard of the Spring Lake/Ferrysburg Police Department. Less than a month ago, a 100-foot section of copper welding wire was stolen from a construction site at the West Michigan Academy of Arts and Academics, also in Ferrysburg, Allard said.
A spokesman for West Michigan Recycling in Muskegon said it’s difficult to tell if a piece of metal was stolen, but they do what they can.
“You get to know your customers and that helps,” said employee Al Vandentoorn. “Or, if it looks too new, like it came from a factory, you start asking questions.”
Those people will usually decide to take their metal elsewhere, he said.
“If they see something suspicious, they won’t take it,” Paulson said of recycling companies. “Because, if it becomes part of a police investigation, we get it back and they’re out of money.”
Mid-Michigan Railroad representative Scott Knight said it’s not too often people take 39-foot sections of rail. Scheuerle said the Vanzees used a hacksaw to cut the rail into transportable pieces.
Knight said he appreciates Grand Haven police working with the railroad “to safeguard our property.”
Sample of scrap metal prices from the Sikora Metals Inc. list (as of Oct. 5):
Bare bright copper wire - $2.55/pound
Roofing copper - $2.10/pound
Stainless steel – 40 cents/pound
Aluminum – 60 cents/pound
Brass pipe - $1.50/pound
Die cast – 24 cents/pound
Nickel - $4.25/pound