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Copper thieves steal $450K in wire from lights over two years

By Randall Jeppesen and David Self Newlin | Posted - Feb 13th, 2013 @ 1:08pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — Copper thieves are leaving parts of Utah's freeways in the dark. UDOT is trying all kinds of new tricks to try and stop them, and thieves are responding with more and more creative tactics.

Over the last two years, UDOT has spent $450,000 replacing copper wiring on light poles. The thefts aren't just from poles out in the middle of nowhere; major freeways like I-80 and I-215 have been targeted.

Criminals have been using any means necessary to get at the wire, from golf clubs to horses to trucks. Officials have replaced more than 100,000 feet of wire along roads in central Utah alone in the last couple years, with another 75,000 feet still missing and needing replacement, according to a UDOT blog post.

UDOT's Tania Mashburn said they've created a five-member team to fix the lights and try to prevent thieves from striking again.

One tactic UDOT uses is to bury the electric junction boxes in random locations and fill them with concrete.

What to do if you see something suspicious

Suspicious drivers can call the Traffic Operations Center at 801-887-3700 to report activity. Folks there will know whether a crew is supposed to be in the area or not.

If you're sure there's a theft going on, simply call the police.

"We're also putting rebar in those boxes now," she said.

Nevertheless, they've found people digging for the boxes to steal wires. More than 1,500 feet were taken from a single location in January, officials said.

Stealing the wires is hard, but there are returns, which is why people keep taking it. A thousand feet of copper wire can be worth anywhere from $300 to $700, according to UDOT.

Officials are asking the public to keep their eyes out for thieves. If you see someone pulled over on the side of the road, especially at a late hour, digging around a light post, that could be a red flag.

Suspicious drivers can call the Traffic Operations Center at 801-887-3700 to report activity. Folks there will know whether a crew is supposed to be in the area or not. If you're sure there's a theft going on, simply call the police.

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