Copper Theft Compromised Safety

Wire stolen cut railroad communication, crossing signal

September 13, 2007

Pole with copper hangingMore 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.

Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of the station.

Posted by: Fitzy Location: Omaha
Why not go ahead and make it attempted murder when someone steals copper piping from a residence or copper wire from any type of signal/power wire. That is effectively what it is. Is it going to take another innocent person getting blown up or perhaps a whole family before authorities step up the efforts to stop the thieves from ripping people off? How rediculous and lawless is this place gonna get? If it’s not murder, shootings, stabbings, beatings….its thieves taking coppper gas pipes, steel siding, or whatever…The police need to be doing more all accross the board in my oppinion to stop this stuff. What a nightmre.

Posted by: Brian Location: Omaha
I moved here from California and out there to sell scrap metal or aluminum you have to have a valid ID or drivers license and they track how much in poundage and volume that you are selling to them. Isn’t there some kind of setup like this here or is it just see no evil, hear no evil here. Come on there has got to be a way to track these people and bring justice to those that are doing this for the quick buck.

Posted by: Good Question Location: Omaha
The government should require DNA samples from anyone selling more than 5 feet of copper wire. We need more laws to protect us! It’s for the children!

Posted by: TA Location: Iowa
If you need money. GET A JOB. Quit stealing you no good idiots.

Posted by: Anonymous Location: omaha
Are the police going after the scrap dealers in connection with this? Why not make scrap metal as hard to buy as cold medicine now adays? simple solutions to stuff like this, fingerprint and i.d. everyone that comes in to sell something. How hard is it to have a system set up to cross reference people selling scrap to different scrap yards?

Posted by: Concerned Location: NE
I’d like to know who is “buying” the copper wire that these crooks are taking. We have to start somewhere – where are these being sold to? scrapyards? on the internet? The way it sounds is the theives are looking to score a quick buck by selling the copper for a fraction of what it’s worth – so, my question is ‘where the heck are they turning the copper into cash at?? Why can’t there be some kind of stake out at the places the copper is being taken to. 5,000 feet of copper wire has got to catch someone’s attention. If these are just punk kids stealing it then selling it – why are the buyers asking more questions. I sure hope some justice comes for Thelander’s case. I can’t imagine a few bucks is worth a life. Someone has to know something (or suspect something) – people need to step up and start asking questions and demanding answers. How about just banning the purchase of ‘scrap copper’?? Or knocking the ‘scrap’ copper price low enough that it’s not worth stealing anymore?

Posted by: Tatjana Location: Omaha
We need to make selling metal more difficult and only available to registered professionals. Registering sellers is a good start but evidently has not stopped thieves.

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