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Copper wire thieves defy death

Posted: November 20, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 20, 2012 2:00 a.m.

The recent rash of metal thieves hijacking local power lines to steal copper are part of a growing — and dangerous — national trend, utility insiders say.

Twice in the past six weeks, thieves have stolen power lines from Los Angeles Department of Water & Power towers in the Santa Clarita Valley, escaping with $300,000 and $150,000 separately.

In another case they clipped $150,000 of cable and left it on the ground, sparking a brush fire.

“LADWP is working closely with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, Santa Clarita Valley Station, to investigate the thefts of copper wire from overhead circuits in the area,” DWP spokeswoman Carol Tucker said Monday.

“The brazen theft of copper wire and cable is a felony that can result in damage to power infrastructure and potential injury — even death — for the thief,” she said.

Nationwide, at least seven men in five states have been fatally electrocuted since July while hacking through power lines to steal wire made of copper, according to a recent report published by USA Today.


DWP officials are aware of the nationwide trend and of the danger behind cutting power lines.

“It can kill you, it’s as simple as that,” said Capt. Marshal Oldham of the Fire Station 126 with a warning for copper metal thieves contemplating fast money selling stolen copper by cutting power lines.

“The power running through those lines is going to kill you in a heartbeat.”

In the most recent local incident of power line snipping, metal thieves caused a brush fire after cutting DWP lines near Newhall Ranch Road at Golden Valley Road, officials said.

Deputies with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station learned of Wednesday’s attempted theft after responding to a brush fire, they wrote in their report.

Firefighters had a difficult time extinguishing the small fire because it was burning under power lines, Fire Department Inspector Bernard Peters said Sunday. Aircraft could not be used.

It was the latest copper theft in a recent local trend.

Local trend

In early October, thieves snipped power lines to steal 800 feet of copper valued at $150,000, deputies and DWP staff confirmed.

They cut the padlock on a gate barring access to DWP property at Oak Avenue, then snipped the power lines.

Thieves also snipped power line cables after midnight Nov. 4 when they climbed a tower cable near Soledad Canyon Road and Valley Circle and stole the cable.

A DWP employee who contacted the Sheriff’s Station to report the theft of 2,800 feet of “good condition” copper told deputies the stolen metal was valued at $300,000.

“Perpetrators will be prosecuted on criminal charges as well as for costs associated with the damage/replacement of conductors and towers,” Tucker said.

“We also would like to assure customers that these thefts will not in any way impact their power service.”

The Department of Water & Power serves the city of Los Angeles, not the Santa Clarita Valley, which is served by Southern California Edison.

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