Copper thieves risk lives; disrupt others

A man died in Martin County, Kentucky late last month while trying to steal copper.

The Martin County Sheriff’s department says Charlie Jude, 45, climbed a substation at an idled mine at Pilgrim, Ky. While trying to reach copper and metal brackets, investigators say Jude touched an active power line and was electrocuted.

The sheriff says Jude’s cousin, who was with him, Steven Jude, went to get help. Jude was charged with several offenses, including burglary and trespassing.

Almost every week local media sources receive reports on copper theft.

Recently subway service was disrupted for thousands of commuters in New York because of a massive theft of copper cable from train tracks.

The theft of 500 feet of cable forced the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to suspend train service. The cable was stolen from about 12 locations along the tracks, the MTA said.

Not only is this kind of activity very dangerous, but it can also cause serious problems in communities in regard to taking out phone service, which is necessary for making emergency calls.

Over the past few years there have been other electrocution deaths involving the theft of copper lines.

Is it really worth risking a life to gather up some wire for a few dollars? Many have been electrocuted while trying to cut live wires from abandoned buildings and electric substations.

The economic consequences for scrap metal theft for utilities such as power and phone companies can be enormous. The cost of repairing damaged transformers, substations and other equipment can run into thousands of dollars.

Damaged power equipment resulting from scrap metal theft also poses significant risk to utility repair teams as well as the offenders.

Many of these thieves are drug addicts who risk their lives trying to steal metal and copper from high-voltage substations, transformers and electric high wires.

Just recently a person or persons cut the copper ground wires running down utility poles in a subdivision near Williamson. They reached up above their heads as far as they could reach to clip the copper ground wires and left the rest dangling from the poles.

A bill designed to curb copper theft in West Virginia in 2012 had good intentions.

But has it really helped with the crime?

The bill requires scrap metal dealers to obtain a business license and keep certain information from each scrap metal transaction. The dealer and seller would need to sign a purchase ticket and statements of ownership, with dealers required to produce information upon request of law enforcement officers and notify law enforcement under certain circumstances.

It seems this has not alleviated the situation. The wire thieves continue stealing and have to be making money by selling it somewhere.

Scrap metal dealers need to be more diligent and suspicious when certain individuals bring in copper or aluminum.

Local law enforcement officers need the help of citizens and Neighborhood Watch groups to help by reporting suspicious activity.

Hopefully no more lives will be lost and no major disruptions in electric, phone or other services will cause law-abiding citizens these types of problems.

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