Three would-be robbers had the tables turned on them Friday when their would-be victim caught them in the act of trying to steal air-conditioning units and held them at gunpoint until authorities arrived.

Richard McDonald, owner of McDonald Air Conditioning, said he’s been waiting to catch the thieves for months, after a series of recent thefts convinced him to take matters into his own hands.

“We were ready for them,” he said. “Dealing with this is a nuisance. I can’t even sleep at night.”

McDonald, who lives with his wife, Jane, on the property where his business is located, said he heard a truck pull up about 9:30 a.m. Friday. Thinking it was the men he hired to build an eight-foot fence around his property, McDonald hopped in his van to go talk to them. But when he got to his shop, he encountered a couple of teens loading their pickup with salvaged air-conditioning units.

“They were throwing the stuff in the back of the truck as fast as they could. I’ve never seen anything like it,” McDonald said. “Those units are heavy. I couldn’t believe they could load them up that fast.”

McDonald got the teens’ attention when he pulled out a pistol and ordered them to stop.

The teens were identified as Forrest Shay Kelly, 17, of Bluff Dale; Kirk Daniel Wysong, 19, of Stephenville; and Rheannon Nykole Scott, 18, of Stephenville.

He said the two males were loading the goods into the pickup while the female sat in the driver’s seat.

“I’m not sure what I said to them because I was rather upset,” he said. “I told them to sit down next to the truck until the authorities arrived. They were begging me not to call the cops but I told them my wife had already called the sheriff’s department.”

In fact, McDonald has called the sheriff’s department a lot lately to report similar thefts. About a month ago he said thieves made off with about $3,000 worth of goods from his shop. McDonald believes his business has been targeted by people looking to cash in on copper taken from the air-conditioning units and parts.

Erath County Sheriff Tommy Bryant said copper sales from recycling manufacturers is big business.

“This is happening everywhere,” Bryant said. “People are stealing copper so they can sell it to recycling plants and get money for it. Many people are doing it to fund their drug habit.”

The three teens were arrested and charged with theft. Their bond was set at $1,500 each.

SARA VANDEN BERGE covers courts, law enforcement, and business and political issues for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at sara.vandenberge@empiretribune.com. Her work number is 968-2379, ext. 240.