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PINE BLUFF, Ark. (KTHV) -- Jefferson County authorities said $5.5 million worth of copper was stripped from Union Pacific rail cars in late February.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has arrested three men so far in connection with this case. They said that one of them was actually caught in the act by railroad police, and more arrests are expected.

A train of railroad cars pulled out Monday from this Pine Bluff rail yard, the scene of a recent copper theft making quite a splash.

"By far this is the biggest theft we've had here in our agency individually and also collectively probably in the state at one time," said Major Lafayette Woods with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.

Major Woods said that 22 Union Pacific engine cars were hit up in the heist. Cut off lines of copper remain in the engine compartments and below.

"These lines stretch from one side all the way down to the end, and you can see this is the ending point on side, but this is all the way down on each engine," Woods said, showing THV 11 the missing areas of copper below the engine compartments.

Authorities have since arrested Billy Elliott, John Carrington and Wesley Clark. Major Woods said railroad police found them at the yard last Tuesday while checking out the damage. He said Billy Elliot was stripping the copper at the time; the two others were located nearby.

"Through the investigation, we learned from one of the participants or one of the defendants that it got to the point where they learned it was so plentiful in terms of how much, they needed to employ additional assistance," Major Woods said.

Major Woods believes that groups of vandals were working over a three to four day period in late February.

Major Woods also said the investigation so far is leading authorities to a possible former railroad employee. We're told the person is not among the three arrested so far. He said this was a crime where someone had to know the ins and outs of getting into the engine cars.

As for the stolen copper, Major Woods said it's been sold, and those buyers could be arrested down the road.

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