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Three men arrested after breaking into Imperial Oil refinery

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Troy Shantz

Imperial Oil is reviewing an incident in which three men cut their way into the Sarnia refinery complex undetected last month and used a contractor’s pickup truck to steal copper wire.

“They went undetected for at least an hour, cutting copper, and getting in the truck and driving around,” said Sarnia Police Const. Shawn Urban.

“What if those three guys weren’t there to steal copper but do something a little more sinister? Who knows how many times they’d been there before?”

In the early morning hours of Feb. 13 the three men drove to a neighbouring property and cut a hole in the perimeter fence of Imperial Oil, police said.

Once inside the plant grounds they headed to a locked compound, cut through a second fence, and began removing lengths of heavy gauge copper wire from spools stored there.

They piled 500 pounds of copper worth an estimated $1,350 into the back of a contractor’s truck parked nearby. The keys were in the ignition, police said.

Imperial Oil spokesperson Kristina Zimmer said the company is reviewing the incident but added she is “very confident” all security protocols were followed.

“In this case, the security measures that we have at our site worked, because these people were detected and were apprehended,” she said.

“We have security programs and measures here at the site and throughout the company that protect our people, operations, and facilities,” she added.

“I’m not going to try to guess whether they were here for 10 minutes or an hour. I don’t know. At the end of day, the security that we have in place worked, because these people were observed, they were detected.”

The three men were driving the truck when Imperial employees forced them to stop, police said.

The three men jumped out, ran through the plant, and exited through the hole in the fence.

What they didn’t know was that Const. Urban, a member of Sarnia Police’s elite COPPS division, already had the area staked out.

Days before, a trail camera a neighbouring company has on its fence line had taken surveillance video of people in the area, Urban told The Journal.

The footage showed three people carrying suitcases and pushing e-bikes. One was wearing a helmet Urban thought he recognized.

Acting on a hunch, he drove past the suspect’s residence on his next shift. He witnessed three men leave the house around 11 p.m., get into a pickup, and drive on Christina Street toward Imperial Oil, he said.

The presence of first responders tending to an unrelated traffic accident at the refinery front gate, however, appeared to spook the would-be thieves, he said.

Hours later Urban spotted the pickup again, this time parked about 400 metres from the hole later found cut in Imperial’s fence.

Urban told a patrolling security guard he was watching the parked truck.

“I knew they were somewhere doing something. I just didn’t know which plant they were in,” he said.

About 20 minutes later, the security guard returned and informed Urban that plant employees had just stopped three men trying to steal a welding truck.

Imperial Oil is currently preparing for a large maintenance shutdown and has been stockpiling wire and other material in the internal, fenced-in compound.

Luckily, Urban said, an inch of fresh snow had recently fallen. He tracked footprints from the hole in the perimeter fence, through brush, under rail cars, and back to the getaway vehicle.

Three men in their 40s were arrested and each charged with break and enter, theft over $5,000, theft under $5,000, and mischief.

The trio, who are known to police, have been released on bail.

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