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Suspects Arrested In Connection With Grate Thefts Along I-95

By Elizabeth Hur

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - An Eyewitness News Exclusive – thieves leave potentially dangerous road hazards around Philadelphia and PennDOT is shocked to learn who is accused of doing the stealing for scrap metal.

When you're driving on a highway, you probably don't even realize they're there: drainage grates found along the shoulder.

According to PennDOT, they have been "mysteriously disappearing" over the last year, putting drivers in danger.

Then came news of an arrest on Tuesday of four men, subcontractors hired by PennDOT to maintain the highways.

PennDOT spokesman, Gene Blaum, said in a statement:

"We are stunned by this arrest. Drainage grates are a critical component of our highway system. Once removed, it becomes a safety hazard and safety is of our utmost priority."

Lt. Michael Gross with the Philadelphia Police Department's Northeast Detectives Division said, "Probably most people wouldn't even turn their head."

We're told, if not for an alert and experienced Philadelphia police officer driving on I-95 in Northeast Philadelphia Tuesday afternoon, the thieves in this case would have gotten away.

"He had spent many years in Highway Patrol and also in Traffic. At about Academy Road, he observed four gentlemen putting it into an unmarked van, which aroused his suspicion. He realized that was a PennDOT job to be removing, replacing, manipulating and repairing grates," Lt. Gross explained.

So while off-duty in his own car, the officer called police radio and followed the van off the Bridge Street exit.

Lt. Gross said, "At 4900 Aramingo, uniformed police converged on him, stopped the car, they recovered two grates. One was the one the officer observed being taken and one had apparently been taken somewhere further north."

Officials say the metal grates are worth about $1000 each and so far, sources say PennDOT had to replace more than 60 stolen grates along I-95.

The four men charged are Norberto Rivera, 24, of the 2000 block of E. Allegheny Ave. in Philadelphia; Raul Rosario, 56, of the 400 block of N. 7th Street in Camden, NJ; Carlos Villegas, 54, of the 600 block of E. Willard Street in Philadelphia; and Edgar Manon, 24, of the 500 block of Alcott Street in Philadelphia.

"There's always a possibility there are more incidents of grate thefts. Obviously there were more grates taken at various points. Whether they're involved, we just don't know yet. Still the early stage of the investigation," Lt. Gross said.

PennDOT officials say they will work closely with the Philadelphia Police Department to gather more information and provide any assistance needed as their investigation continues.

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