A 29-year-old man was arrested early Monday after police say he tried to steal a catalytic converter he had just cut out of a vehicle.

Just after 12:30 a.m. Monday, security guards at Western Metal Recycling, 4221 W. 700 South, were making rounds on the property when they heard a saw being used, said Salt Lake police spokeswoman Lara Jones.

Western Metal was also the site of a small explosion and pallet fire last week.

When the would-be burglar saw the guards, he climbed a fence and ran into a field. He left behind the converter he had just taken off a vehicle as well as a backpack containing several tools, including a reciprocating saw, blades and batteries, Jones said.

A police K-9 found a man hiding in nearby sagebrush. After receiving treatment for a minor dog bite, Jeromee Eltiny was arrested and booked into the Salt Lake County Jail.

The attempted theft was the latest in what has become an ongoing problem for nearly two years. In February 2007, the Deseret News reported that several muffler shops in Salt Lake County were seeing up to a dozen customers a month who needed to get their stolen converters replaced.

Catalytic converters are used to help reduce the toxicity of a vehicle's emissions. A car will still run without it but sounds exceptionally loud. Mechanics say with the right saw, a thief can cut one out from underneath a vehicle in two minutes. Thieves typically target sport utility vehicles because of the easier access under the vehicles.

The converters contain several metals inside that can be sold for quick money at scrap metal yards.

In October 2007, prosecutor Fred Burmester with the Salt Lake District Attorney's Office started to hold occasional meetings with groups being affected by the rash of metal thefts across the valley, including those who dealt with catalytic converters and copper wiring. There have been a total of six meetings.

Last year, Burmester calculated that metal thefts totaled more than $1 million in losses. That figure took into account the value of the metal item stolen, any damage that may have been caused in taking the item and the cost of replacing stolen or broken items.

As for catalytic converters, the district attorney's office had more than 100 incidents reported during the first few months of 2008, said Deputy District Attorney Alicia Cook.

In Salt Lake City alone, there have been 30 cases of stolen or attempted stolen catalytic converters since Jan. 1, Jones said. Multiple converters were stolen in some of those incidents, including one in which 11 were taken at one time, she said.

The district attorney's office is looking into the possibility that there could be a way to mark catalytic converters so they can be linked to a specific vehicle.

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