After being targeted overnight Tuesday and Wednesday, three volunteers at the church at 7100 Fair Oaks Blvd., in Carmichael set up a stakeout late Thursday night and early this morning, catching the alleged thieves apparently coming back for a third time.
The stakeout team, which had set up a video surveillance system, caught the intruders in the act and called Sacramento County sheriff's officials, who arrived on the scene around 4:30 a.m. and arrested two people - believed to be a man and a woman.
Sheriff's officials identified the suspects as Curtis Darnell (left photo), 36, and Howard Sanders (right photo), 26. Both were arrested on suspicion of vandalism, grand theft and criminal conspiracy.
Teaching Pastor Curt Pearson said he first noticed damage in the church air conditioning/heating units area when he showed up at 7 a.m. two days ago.
"It looks like they were just doing prep work. They had removed all the screws and panels ... and drained the Freon," Pearson said. "They knew what they were doing. They'd shut off the electricity."
On Thursday morning, Pearson said he showed up to find the cooling/heating area heavily damaged, and copper wiring and tubing had been taken from the scene.
The church, now without heat and facing estimated repair costs of more than $50,000, conferred with sheriff's officials and considered the possibility that the thieves might make one more run to obtain materials from the air conditioning/heating units area.
Pearson noted that church Pastor Matt Potratz was a key figure in consultations with authorities.
On Thursday night, church volunteers set up their video surveillance sting.
"They took turns watching, and sure enough, two people showed up early this morning, and (the volunteers) called the sheriff," Pearson said. "The sheriff came with lights and they arrested them.
"(The volunteers) have gone home to bed ... to get some sleep."
Pearson said the immediate challenge now is restoring heat to the church and making a plan to repair the damage. He added, however, that the church plans to hold services on Sunday.
"Oh yes, we'll be here. It's not the end of the world. We'll work something out," he said.