Copper wiring stolen from electrical substations


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TOOELE -- The signs say "private property," "no trespassing," even "Danger: high voltage." For a thief going after copper wires, though, signs don't really matter.

"I think it's just desperation," says Tooele County sheriff's Lt. Travis Scharmann. "The economy is bad, and people are just doing whatever they can to get some money."

Scharmann says his office gets calls every week about copper theft cases. Lately, he's been dealing with copper thefts from Rocky Mountain Power substations -- something he just doesn't understand.

"If you're messing with live wires, yes, that can be very dangerous. We've had a few people around here that have been shocked and killed by it," Scharmann says.

On April 8, the Pine Canyon substation in Erda was hit. The thief, or thieves, got in by cutting through a chain-link fence. Once inside, the thief unraveled a spool full of copper wiring.

Then, on April 30, the Tooele substation was hit the same way. The only difference was that the thief cut wire already coming out of the ground. That, Rocky Mountain Power says, is scary.

"Sometimes they will cut the ground wire, and that presents a safety hazard to both the thief and to our employees who go in there to check it afterwards," says Jeff Hymas, a spokesperson for Rocky Mountain Power. "There is high voltage electrical equipment in substations, and you're putting your life at risk by entering."

The copper wiring taken is valuable because it's already bare; no plastic or rubber tubing to cut through. Stealing it from a power substation, though, just shows what thieves will do to get it and resell it for money.

"The price of metal has gone up, so they just go out and pick up anything they can, wherever they can," Scharmann says.

Investigators are hoping someone knows about the theft and will turn the thief in. Callers to the Tooele County Sheriff's Office, at 435-833-3800, can remain anonymous.

Investigators are also hoping scrap metal businesses will report anything they receive that could be suspicious.

E-mail: acabrero@ksl.com

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