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Second bronze statue in four months hauled away in Covina

Police believe scrap metal thieves used a truck to break it loose.

October 06, 2008|Howard Blume | Times Staff Writer

For the second time in four months, suspected scrap metal thieves have stolen a bronze statue in Covina, part of a collection of public art funded by a local developer.

The theft occurred in front of a bank building late Friday or early Saturday. The thieves apparently used a truck to drag the 300-pound statue until it broke loose from its base, said Sgt. Ray Marquez of the Covina Police Department.

The work depicts a boy joyously carrying an American flag, with one of his legs kicking high in the air.

An upsurge of metal thefts has prompted a flurry of legislation. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed five bills last month to combat illegal salvagers.

The governor's office has tabulated tales of Central Valley farmers who lost crops because irrigation pumps were stripped of wiring; a toxic chemical spill in San Pablo Bay caused by the theft of a $10 brass valve; and a Hesperia home burned to the ground because thieves had stolen a fire hydrant hookup.

New laws ban immediate payment for scrap metal and require buyers to take thumbprints and confirm the identification of sellers.

The Covina statue is one of four for which the locally based McIntyre Co. paid a total of $270,000. The sculptures were intended as an investment in and a tribute to the community, said Andrew M. McIntyre, a project manager for the four-generation, family-owned development firm.

"People drive by, they see it, and they think, 'Obviously, this is a nice community,' " McIntyre said. "Hopefully, it will have a mushroom effect and all the property owners will have the same pride."

McIntyre stood next to the upturned 1,800-pound boulder to which the statue once had been bolted at the corner of East Rowland Street and South Stewart Drive.

Designed by artist De L'Esprie and cast by David L. Spellerberg, the life-sized rendition of a 12-year-old rose almost 10 feet high, including the boulder at its base and the cloth flag the boy held aloft.

"I loved the way it showed peace," said Miguel Correa, 50, who lives nearby. For him, the statue recalled his 5-year-old son, who lingered on life support before dying two months ago after a swimming pool accident.

"I used to come and cry here," he said. He gestured at the crater. "The people that do that are scrap."

A block away, McIntyre can still spot a second statue, of a girl swinging a younger child in pigtails through the air. Around the corner, four bronze children climb a bronze rock atop which they are planting a flag.

The fourth statue, of a 5-year-old girl holding an ice cream cone in one hand and a flag in the other, was stolen in June. It has been recovered, but needed repairs and soon will be returned to display.

Thieves sold it to a Montclair salvager for $198. Suspecting something was amiss, the salvager notified police.

The statues have been situated in front of well-maintained commercial structures owned by the McIntyres, who built more than 2,000 post-World War II homes in the area.

The group of four bronze children, for example, is set on a grassy strip alongside a Burger King and a vitamin shop. The McIntyres own and manage some 18 commercial properties and had envisioned putting sculptures in front of them all.

For Bill McIntyre, 61, the bronze figures depict yesteryear Covina with orange groves and walnut orchards, the small town where a dollar would buy him a tuna sandwich, two sodas, a movie ticket and popcorn in 1952.

"The thieves are not going to deter us," said the younger McIntyre, who is 26 and a candidate for the local water board. "We just have to be more creative at protecting these."

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howard.blume@latimes.com

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