Copper Theft Compromised Safety

More metal thefts have been reported in the metro and in one particular case, it again could have had tragic results.

Ever since the price of scrap metal has taken off, thieves have been stealing copper and aluminum, anything they can get their hands on.

Most of the easy targets have been stripped, so lately there has been a trend for more risky thefts. Thefts that endanger the crooks and compromise public safety.

"It's not only against the law, it's extremely unsafe,” says Mark Davis with the Union Pacific Railroad.

Someone snuck onto U.P. property at 6th and Pacific Tuesday morning, climbed the poles located along the tracks and made off with almost 5,000 feet of copper wire.

"That line there is dual purpose, not only commercial power to help with the line to serve for the signals, but also for communications in general," says Davis. “Power the railroad signals which tells the trains when to move or not to move or the public warning device at the grade crossings."

The line was quickly replaced, but at least for a little while, the Harriman Center couldn't communicate with the some of the trains passing through the metro. The wire was stolen from the tracks that run parallel to I-480 in-between Vinton and Martha streets.

The disruption was minor and apparently no one was hurt, but Davis says there could have been a very different outcome. The thieves could have cut a "hot" line that supplied power to a railroad crossing signal, and endangered everyone crossing the tracks.

There's also the issue of the personal risk the thieves took. "Very unsafe because you never know when these lines are going to be charged with power,” says Davis. “It could be very little power, it could be high voltage."

When they're caught, they'll face felony theft charges. The U.P. works closely with local law enforcement, but they also send agents in undercover with video cameras. The railroad is serious about catching these people.

Last month, thieves stole about $20 worth of copper gas and water lines from an Onawa, Iowa house owned by Earl Thelander.

"The copper tubing had been cut down and the subjects had cut the copper tube on the furnace which allowed all the propane to be inside the residence," says Monona County Sheriff Jeff Pratt.

Thelander was burned over 40% of his body when a fan sparked that propane, causing an explosion. The 80-year-old Thelander died several days later.

Those responsible for the theft have not been caught. Anyone with information about that theft is asked to call the Monona County Sheriff’s Department at 712-433-2525.