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.