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The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has doubled the reward being offered in the battle against thieves who have been stealing copper wire from interstate highway lighting systems.
The offer is now $5,000 for information leading to arrests and prosecution of the thieves, whose crimes already have caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. The cost is ultimately borne by Kentucky taxpayers and the crime also takes a toll on highway safety as major interchanges are left darkened.
“Stealing copper is a crime that victimizes all Kentucky taxpayers,” said KYTC Secretary Jim Gray. “Stolen wiring has to be replaced, broken lighting systems have to be repaired, and it’s the taxpayers who are left with the bill.”
Officials in KYTC District 5 estimate that thieves have stripped light poles and junction boxes of about 94,000 feet of copper wire – nearly 18 miles’ worth. The damage estimate to date is close to $380,000 dollars.
KYTC is partnering with the Kentucky Department of Homeland Security to spread the word that copper wire theft from highway lights endangers the public and puts motorists at risk. The thieves also run a risk: High voltage in the lines could result in electrocution. While copper wire theft also occurs on private property, interstate and highway lighting systems are often targets.
With the public’s help, we can focus transportation funds on needed community projects, prevent future theft and even save a life as the risk of electrocution while stealing is high.
Kentuckians can contact the following resources: Report any information about wire thefts at Kentucky interchanges to the KYTC Office of Inspector General (OIG) Office at 502-330-7506. If your information leads to an arrest and conviction, you may be eligible for the reward. Report active crimes or suspicious activity to local law enforcement or report dark intersections to the KYTC Traffic Operations Center at 877-FOR-KYTC.
“Like catalytic converter thefts, stealing copper becomes more common during difficult economic times,” said KYTC Office of Inspector General Director Maryellen Mynear. “We’re asking the public to watch for and report suspicious activity, such as people in unmarked vehicles working near lighting equipment or wire attached to the hitch of a vehicle. This strategy has proven to be successful in the past so we’re asking for the public’s help again to curb this type of crime.”
Culprits break into lighting systems and junction boxes to pull, cut and strip the wires. They often look to sell the scrap metal to recycling facilities in and out of the state. With damage exceeding $3,000, the thief or thieves could face Class D felony charges, which carry possible prison sentences of five to 10 years. To deter theft, state law requires recycling centers to obtain identification of sellers and a certified statement as to the sources of the scrap metal being sold.
“Thieves are netting only a fraction of what it costs our taxpayers to fix broken infrastructure and to replace wire,” said Director Mynear. “We’re working with recyclers, local law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security to crack down on the illegal sale of stolen wire and we appreciate the public’s help in preventing these crimes.”