Copper thieves use stormy weather to their advantage

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Tuesday night's storms caused power outages across the area, but Mother Nature was not to blame for one community's power outage.

When residents in Cleveland spent the night without power, they thought it was because of the bad weather. But on Wednesday, authorities determined it's criminals who are to blame for the outage. They say thieves hit a power station in Liberty County looking for copper.

Two-thousand homes homes in Cleveland lost power Wednesday morning. The Taffs' house was among them.

"Around noon, I finally called and it popped on and then popped back off and came back by 1 o'clock-ish," homeowner Julie Taff said.

Their house is next to the Sam Houston Coop Electrical Distribution Station, which took a direct hit from the lightning. But that's not what caused the power disruption. Instead, it was copper thieves.

"With the ground wires being gone, there was no way for the electrical charge to be grounded and that's what threw the system offline," said Capt. Ken Defoor with the Liberty County Sheriff's Office.

They took 200 pounds of copper ground wire, plus wire to a transformer that was down because of the lightning hit. That leads the sheriff's office to suspect the thieves planned the crime to coincide with the weather.

"The possibility that they thought no one would be out and about to see them, and it would be the perfect opportunity to do something like that," Defoor said.

A portable generator brought the power system up on Wednesday and restored electricity to the Taffs' house and other customers in the Cleveland area.

For them, copper thefts are hitting far too close to home.

"That kind of blows my mind, but I think that kinda tells you the state of the economy right now. People are desperate," homeowner Norris Taff said.

Officials estimate the losses from theft amount to about $10,000.

The Sam Houston Coop Electrical Distribution Station is offering a reward of $3,000 for information that leads to an arrest.

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