A former International Paper employee and his girlfriend are in custody this weekend, suspected of breaking into the company’s shuttered mill in Gardiner and making off with $10,000 worth of equipment in a truck they’re also suspected of stealing, according to the Douglas County Sheriff’s office.
Officials say security footage shows James Michael Wiggins, 36, and Julie Lynn Neuharth, 43, entering the defunct mill’s maintenance shop at 2:42 a.m. Thursday and taking their time as they gathered equipment from around the site and loaded it into a company pickup parked inside the shop.
The truck was “pretty dang full” when they were through, according to Dep. Mike Pariani, the arresting officer.
At about 6:30 a.m., the pair crashed through two chain-link fences and drove off on Highway 101, according to the police report.
Pariani said Wiggins, who’s had previous run-ins with local law enforcement, is clearly visible in the security footage.
The deputy was in Gardiner looking for Wiggins on Thursday when the suspect happened to drive past him in the stolen truck.
Once in custody, Wiggins declined to cooperate with investigators, asking for a lawyer almost immediately, Pariani said.
He allegedly had methamphetamine on him, as well as Vicodin and Clonazepam, narcotic drugs for which he does not have a prescription.
Pariani said Wiggins and his father used to work at the mill.
The 2004 Ford F-150 valued at $8,000 received only about $1,000 of damage from crashing the gates, police say.
A few of the stolen items were in the truck when Wiggins was arrested, police say, and some others were recovered at his mother’s house in Reedsport. Most of the items, however, remain missing, according to police.
Among the stolen property are air compressors, chain saws and a number of high-end hand tools.
Wiggins was booked on suspicion of eight felonies and four misdemeanors, including burglary and first-degree criminal mischief. He was being held Friday at Douglas County Jail in lieu of $465,000 bond.
Neuharth was arrested on suspicion of five felonies and four misdemeanors. She is not suspected of possessing illegal drugs. She was being held in lieu of $270,000 bond.
Opened in 1963, International Paper’s Gardiner plant was for a time the primary employer in the Reedsport-Gardiner area.
After closing the plant in 1999, IP tore down the towers, warehouse and paper machine, but kept intact the main office, maintenance shop, warehouse and several smaller outbuildings, according to Margie Fryer, who worked at the plant during its entire run. Fryer, who lives near the plant, said most items of value were sold by IP or relocated. What remains is primarily equipment used by a skeleton crew to maintain the riverfront property, which includes several small dams.
IP used to employ a daytime security guard, police said, but now keeps only one employee around while it tries to find a buyer.
Fryer said she’s heard rumors that thieves have begun making night visits.
• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.