ERWIN — A man suspected in several regional vehicle thefts and arrested late last year in Erwin for allegedly attempting to sell a car stolen in Virginia for scrap is scheduled to appear in Unicoi County Sessions Court later this week.
Adam P. Steele, 27, is charged with theft over $1,000 and theft under $500 in Unicoi County. According to Dan Bowman, a special agent with the Tennessee Department of Revenue, Steele’s arrest was the result of several regional agencies working together.
According to an affidavit, on Dec. 8, Bowman received information from the Kingsport Police Department, the Appalachia, Va., Police Department and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles an area salvage company’s employee from was traveling to Erwin to take possession of a Ford Escort possibly stolen from the Appalachia area.
Bowman said Kingsport Police Detective Martin Taylor had received an informant’s tip that the salvage employee was on his way to Erwin to price the Escort and a Toyota pickup truck.
Based on information provided to Bowman by Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Special Agent Matt Hudson, the Appalachia Police Department was investigating the recent theft of a Ford Escort at that time and Steele had been identified as a suspect, according to Bowman’s report.
About 4 p.m. on Dec. 8, the salvage company employee arrived at the Shell Service Station located off Tenn. Highway 81 in Erwin. Bowman said Steele and his girlfriend exited the adjacent McDonald’s to meet the employee and provided the salvage employee with a key and access to the allegedly stolen Escort. Bowman said he, Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson, Erwin Police Investigator Tony Buchanan and Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Ronnie Adkins witnessed this as they were in unmarked cruisers parked at the Huddle House restaurant connected to the Shell Station.
After Steele displayed control of the vehicle, the officers converged and Steele was taken into custody, Bowman said. The Escort was was identified as stolen after vehicle identification number checks were conducted, according to Bowman. The vehicle displayed a Tennessee license plate and the Virginia plate actually belonging to the car was found under its passenger’s seat. Bowman said the Tennessee tag on the car was for a vehicle belonging to Tetrick Funeral Home and the tag had previously been reported stolen to the Johnson City Police Department.
Jonesborough Police Maj. Matt Rice also believes checks recovered from Steele were stolen in the area, Bowman said.
Bowman said Steele is a suspect in at least 10 regional automobile thefts and is also a suspect in a number of catalytic converter thefts. Bowman said the motive behind the alleged thefts is the money Steele would receive from scrap yards for metal from the vehicles and catalytic converters. The Escort that Steele allegedly attempted to have priced on Dec. 8 was missing its catalytic converter, Bowman said.
Bowman said Steele targeted private property and businesses in the automobile thefts, particularly older model vehicles in various states of repair.
Under Tennessee Code, no title is required on vehicles 10 years or older when taken to salvage yards for crushing or scrapping, Bowman said. He also said the methods there are two methods to collect money from salvage yards for vehicles — they can either be taken directly to the yard by the person looking to collect or the salvage vendor may be contacted to pick up the vehicle, paying a depreciated amount due to transport charges.
Aside from the aforementioned agencies, the Washington County Sheriff’s Department was also involved in the case.
Steele is being held in the Sullivan County Jail. He is scheduled to appear in Sullivan County Criminal Court on Feb. 15 on a violation of probation charge.