Guilty plea in theft of 50 Frontier school bus batteries

A Parkersburg man pleaded guilty Monday in Washington County Common Pleas Court to stealing nearly $8,000 worth of bus batteries from Frontier Local Schools more than two years ago.

Thomas E. Fellure Jr., admitted to breaking into the Frontier bus garage, at 44870 State Route 7, New Matamoras, on June 15, 2011, where he stole 50 bus batteries, various lead cables and a couple of catalytic converters from other district vehicles stored there.

At 80 pounds a piece, Fellure made off with around 4,000 pounds of batteries. There is proof that Fellure sold at least some of those batteries to a Mineral Wells, W.Va., recycling center, said Washington County Assistant Prosecutor Jared Erb.

“There are receipts where he traded in batteries for cash and used his name and I.D.,” said Erb.

Fellure was ultimately charged with the crime in Dec. 1, 2011 after several sources identified the vehicle caught by the garage’s surveillance footage as Fellure’s 1997 Chevy Blazer.

Fellure sold the car at a second junk yard after the theft, but it was traced back to him, said Erb.

The theft, which happened while Frontier School District was on summer break, left 21 buses inoperable.

“Thank goodness it happened during the summer time,” said Frontier Local Superintendent Bruce Kidder.

The school district had to order almost an entire pallet full of new batteries and district employees put in several extra man hours installing them, he said.

Fellure was indicted later that month on charges of grand theft and vandalism-both fourth-degree felonies because the value of items stolen and vandalized was greater than $7,500.

After some long pauses and conversations with attorney Eric Fowler, Fellure pleaded guilty as charged Monday.

The two offenses are allied, explained Washington County Judge Randall Burnworth.

“While you’re pleading guilty to both, you can only be sentenced on one,” he said.

In exchange for Fellure’s guilty pleas, the Washington County Prosecutor’s Office agreed to recommend Fellure be sentenced to 90 days in the Washington County Jail and three years of community control sanctions.

“And restitution to the school system in the amount of $7,726,” said Erb.

According to receipts, Fellure had received $348 for the 1,088 pounds of lead batteries sold in West Virginia.

Kidder said he is happy that the deal includes restitution for the district and its insurance company, which covered all but $1,000 of expenses.

Because of the theft, the district made a few small changes, such as redirecting the camera that caught Fellure’s Blazer and adding more lighting to the garage, said Kidder.

The school system has already put the event behind them, added Kidder.

“To be honest, we’d all but forgotten about it,” he said.

Erb said he is uncertain why the case took so long to reach fruition. Fellure only recently agreed to accept the plea agreement, he said.

Fellure is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 23. He faces a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison. However, if the agreed disposition is upheld he will serve the recommended 90 days in the county jail, and he will receive credit for two days served.