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Risking death for a dollar: Copper thieves target power substations

Four men arrested in two separate copper crimes in Springfield

November 30, 2012|by Mike Landis, KY3 News

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Copper thieves in Springfield are costing electric customers.  Some new measures, however, could end up saving money and lives.

The thieves are after copper grounding wires.  The metal is a hot commodity because it can be sold for a lot of money at scrap metal yards.  Every dollar in a criminal's pocket is one less dollar in the wallets of utility customers.

If you get close to a power substation, you can hear the buzzing that’s made by 161,000 volts of electricity.

“This is a very dangerous zone,” said Joel Alexander, a spokesman for City Utilities of Springfield.

With the buzzing sound and the warning signs, most people would get the message to keep out.  That’s not the case for some money hungry thieves.

“A lot of people just get desperate and think it’s an easy way to get some money,” said Alexander.

The criminals break in and steal copper grounding wire, doing their dirty work just inches from death.

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“The ultimate thing is, if you get $200 or $300 for some copper, is it really worth risking your life for?” Alexander asked.

CU says it's been a problem for a while now.  This year alone, it's spent $170,000 on new security measures, like cameras.

Also, CU is taking away the temptation by replacing the copper straps with metal like steel, and posting new signs.

“What you think is here may not be here and it is not going to worth your time,” said Alexander.

On Thursday night, on its new cameras, CU caught three people stealing copper.  A business also discovered another criminal doing the same thing on cameras they had to install.  All four guys are now in jail.

“It is a crime to remove this and we will prosecute,” said Alexander.  “It’s just something we don't want to deal with, but unfortunately we are left to deal with.”

About a year ago, a person broke into a substation near Sparta and stole some wire.  That melted a transformer, which left thousands of people in the dark.

CU believes one of the guys arrested on Thursday night may have been the one responsible for those problems in Christian County.

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