Copper stolen from utility poles

MASARYKTOWN, FLORIDA - She almost didn't see it.

Joy Weld stepped outside to retrieve her Saturday paper one morning and noticed something odd about the utility pole standing beside her chain link fence. Six feet of the ground wire running up the pole had been snipped off.

"I just happened to look over and saw it was missing a piece," said Weld, 73, who lives on Monroe Avenue. Weld called the power company first, then reported it to the sheriff's office. Spokeswoman Deputy Donna Black said an investigation is under way after Bright House Networks reported 20 poles stripped of wire. The copper inside is valued at $20. The clipped wires apparently don't interrupt any services.

A reporter dropped by the Masaryktown Post Office to see if anyone else in the neighborhood was affected, but most said it was the first they had heard of the snipped wires. Still, clipping wires pose a hazard. Primarily at risk is the perpetrator, who faces a misdemeanor theft charge if caught. Although the wire stolen typically serves to ground a current, there's always the chance it could be live, according to Ernie Holz auer, spokesman for the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative. "Obviously if we've gone to the trouble of connecting wire we anticipate some energy would be flowing," he said.

Some utility wires carry up to 14,400 volts, so cutting wire is "a very serious hazard," Holzhauer said. Dave Tubstad, plant manager for Patriot Metals in Brooksville, said scrap yards typically keep abreast of the latest theft trends.

He's on the lookout for the ground wire now, which would be around an 8 gauge.

"It's a huge, thick wire," he said. If someone comes in with that thickness, Tubstad plans to call authorities. Copper at the facility was selling between $2.94 and $3.07 per pound. Back on Monroe Street, Weld spent the next week on the phone to get it fixed. The power company came out first, but they said the wire belonged to Bright House Networks.

Bright House came out a week after the initial report and said it belonged to the power company – but they fixed it anyway, Weld said. That same day, 18 feet of phone cable was dug up in Ridge Manor, but authorities have made no connection between the two. While construction sites remain a popular hunting ground for copper, stealing from ground wires is nothing new. A 45-year-old Crystal Springs man was electrocuted in December when he tried to steal wire from an abandoned Pasco County mobile home. Last summer, men posing as Verizon employees managed to steal 1,000 feet of copper wire in Pasco County.


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