TEXAS CITY — A former sprinkler system installer faces felony theft charges after the fire marshal accused him of using his expertise to steal the brass fire hose fittings at buildings around the county.

Texas City Fire Marshal Dennis Harris said fittings were stolen from many buildings, including the Doyle Convention Center, Tanger Outlets, Mainland Medical Center, League City’s city hall, the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office and the Galveston Police Department.

Harris said he believed at least 30 fittings were stolen in Galveston, 15 to 20 in Texas City and at least five in League City.

Several hotels and motels in Texas City and Galveston, a West Texas City church and the Texas City Lowe’s Home Improvement Center were also victims of the thefts that often “happened in broad daylight,” Harris said. The Lowe’s was hit at least twice, Harris said.

The heavy fittings cost between $300 and $600, Harris said.

Gary Tillotson, a former Houston resident who lived in Texas City for the past nine months, was arrested Tuesday on theft charges and was in the Texas City jail on a $4,500 bond. Galveston investigators and League City fire marshals are working on additional charges, Harris said.

Tillotson is accused of disconnecting the fire department connection fittings, large brass fittings that tie fire hose couplings to a building’s water sprinkler system. Harris said Tillotson used to work for a commercial sprinkler system company.

Authorities allege the stolen fittings were sold at local metal recyclers for $30 to $100, Harris said. Harris and Assistant Fire Marshals Shonna Bellow and Chris Sumlin gathered sales receipts from two area metal recycling companies during their investigation.

A couple of weeks ago, Harris said, Galveston Assistant Fire Marshal Chris Harrison was doing an inspection when he noticed a man disconnecting one of the fittings from a building. When Harrison asked the man what he was doing, he reportedly said he was swapping the fitting out for a new one.

“(Harrison) then noticed that he got back into a personal vehicle and took down the license plate and called me to say he was headed my way,” Harris said. “We tracked the car down to a Texas City address.”

Harris said he interviewed Tillotson and launched an investigation that included getting affidavits from building owners who had the fittings stolen, as well as the scrap metal businesses sales tickets.

“This is a very dangerous theft,” Harris said. “It truly puts the public at risk. If those fittings are removed, (firefighters) have nothing on the truck that would allow them to tap into that water system. You wouldn’t know the fitting was missing until you arrived at the scene of the fire.”

Tillotson spent time in jail after a conviction on similar charges in Harris County, according to court records.

Contact Mainland Editor T.J. Aulds at 409-683-5334 or tjaulds@galvnews.com.


(12) comments

Kevin Lang

Hopefully, they can find some good felony charges to give this clown so that he can't get back to this "trade" anytime soon. It's too bad, too, that we can't get some better ethics within the scrap metal business, too. If these clowns couldn't find easy markets for these fittings, and AC parts, and all the other construction materials they seem to enjoy stealing, maybe these thieves would pursue other ventures.

Kevin Lang

I trust he's no relation to the former publisher of this newspaper?

Lars Faltskog

This Gary person should get a restraining order imposed upon him that disallows him to go 500 feet from any fire hydrant.

We need new technology: cameras installed on all fire hydrants, or some kind of code that allows proper access. If someone tries to disconnect any type of appendage on a fire hydrant without the proper code, he/she is blasted with rushing fire hydrant water, alarm is sounded, police is automatically called.

Island Bred

We can afford to send children to school and feed them a breakfast - how can we afford to arm our firehydrants?

I still lean toward the Islamic soulution for thieves. I detest thieves.

Good job TCFD - I was real impressed that the fire department solved it's own theft problem That is an awesome story!!!

George Croix

You can't fix stupidity like this clown exhibits, or make anyone have concern for the safety of their fellow man, or mitigate their lack of character.
What you can do is sentence them to being on every FD related maintenance detail for the next 10 years. Cutting all the station's grass, washing all their windows, taking out all their trash, and doing the painting and preventive maintenance on every fire hydrant and standpipe system in the County.
That should occupy any free time formerly spent putting lives and property at risk.
This was not just petty or simple theft. This idiot willfully placed people at risk of serious injury or death or additional property loss if that extra water pressure from pumpers had been needed.
The Judge should throw the book at him. Or, maybe a few of those 2 1/2's.

Kevin Lang

There has to be something we can do to close the "aftermarket" for these types of things. If I'm a recycle yard owner, and someone brings me one or two of these things, maybe I won't really think much of it. However, if I have some guy that's bringing a bunch of these $300 items and he's happy with getting only $30 for them, I'm definitely going to wonder why he isn't trying to market these things himself. Then, if I'm a buyer of these used fittings, I'd wonder why so many of these things are available in the recycling yards. If the recyclers aren't wondering about this kind of stuff, then it seems to me that they're acting more as fences than recyclers.

Lars Faltskog

I would think this is really high up on the felony offenses, like 1st degree.

Makes me wonder if this is considered the same severity as vandalizing a blue US mailbox.

Maybe with all of his mechanical expertise, he can have for part of his punishment assignments to go (accompanied with someone) to various elderly persons' homes to make plumbing-type repairs - a convict paroleee work release program, after he serves some jail time.

Kevin Lang

I'd allow for some kind of supervised time away from jail for him to make money to pay restitution for the fitting stolen during the period he was active (I don't much care if they were actually able to pin every theft on him) AND has made restitution to the taxpayers for housing his sorry rear while he's being punished.

When he finally gets parole, he should be ordered to spend at least 15 hours per week volunteering at a burn unit.

Jim Forsythe

The number of people that have been too or worked at each business should = the number of charges that should be filed. Gecroix would you realy want this person to be around our fire stations. Make him clean up brush at Jack Brooks park where they will have supervision or clean up a coker unit ! Looks like to me he did not learn his lesson the 1st time he was found to have done this!

George Croix

I didn't mean unsupervised.
I like your Coker idea better, but I doubt the new owners of the place would go for it.

Kevin Lang

You are suggesting that he clean the coker unit while it's in service, right? I mean, the punishment should fit the crime, right?

Stephen Murphy

Thieves are the lowest of lowlifes. I know what would keep this punk from stealing again and it doesn't involve jail time.

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