Instances of copper wire thefts are on the rise nationwide and seems to be reaching near epidemic proportions. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, copper theft costs the national economy about $1 billion per year. Abandoned homes, industrial warehouses and new construction sites are common places where theft occurs. Even though new laws and regulations are in place in many states that include stiffer sentences for those who are caught as well as additional restrictions for the resale of copper materials, copper theft continues to rise because of the amount of money to be made.
Thefts have occurred in Lincoln County in the past several years and County Sheriff Kerry Lee reported thieves again this summer stole about 300 pounds of copper wire in mid-June from lines going to facilities located on Highland Peak, the mountains west of Caselton.
Upon investigation and finding of certain evidence, deputies arrested Kevin Miller, 45, of Fallon (but arrested in Panaca), and a short time later arrested 74-year old James Ryan of Panaca, and Jody Eyraud, 44, of Caliente.
All three men have made first appearances before Judge Cowley in Meadow Valley Justice Court, and are either out on bail or their own recognizance and await another appearance in court.
Lee said on June 24, Lincoln County Power District No. 1 reported to the Sheriff’s Department lines had been cut going up to Highland Peak, “which houses a large repeater system for multiple agencies, a large array, including cellular service companies, mercy services, state of Nevada, even the military has some repeaters up there.”
Lee said the thieves “did not cut the main line to the facilities, rather a secondary line, that went to one of the old mines in the area, and cut down a power pole on an older line which caused the newer line to short out some fuses and knock the power out on the main line.”
He said officers were sent to do a full a investigation with LCPD and found the downed pole, and that a large amount of copper wire had been taken.
Lincoln County Power estimated about one-and-a-quarter mile of wire was taken with a value of $30,000.
Lee said deputies said from some of the evidence, they were able to develop a couple of suspects he thought may be involved. “So, I started contacting the recycling yards in Cedar City, Utah, and Las Vegas. At the yard in Cedar City, I gave them the names of the possible suspects, and they were actually able to confirm, through surveillance video, and through ID photocopies, that the three persons we suspected had indeed turned in a large load of copper to the recycle yard on June 20. About 300 pounds were turned in and some other items.”
“So the thefts,” Lee said, “had occurred several days prior to being noticed by various agencies using the facilities, on June 24.”
The Sheriff’s Department obtained the video and ID photocopies for evidence. And using search warrants for the men’s residences found some of the wire, a cutting tool and a chain saw.
LCPD reports repair costs for the power outage alone was about $2,000, repairs to the Comet Distribution line was estimated at between $14,000 and $18,000 in labor. Replacement of the stolen wire was about $30,000.
Lee said one of the biggest problems with such wire thefts is “thieves do many thousands of dollars worth of damage for only a few hundreds dollars worth of copper. It’s not the amount of copper taken, it’s the amount damage done when they are taking it.”
In August 2012, 41-year old James McDaniel and 35-year old Jennifer McGill, both of Las Vegas, were convicted on 17 counts of burglaries on private residences in Lincoln County and theft of copper wire at several old mines in the Pioche area.
Lee said McDaniel has since been extradited to San Bernardino, Calif., to face similar charges there.
“Wire theft is not new,” Lee noted, “but seems to intensify as the price in scrap metal goes up.”
However, legitimate scrap yards and recyclers are cracking down more on asking questions about what is being brought in to them. “It’s not No Questions Asked anymore,” said Lee.
He explained Nevada has really tightened up the laws, passing legislation requiring a person bringing in wire or scrap metal to present a photo ID, and/or other identification, of which copies are made for company records.
“Other states may vary,” he said, “but Nevada has been really good about tightening up legislation for recycling companies. They have to say what they brought it in, how much, how much was paid, and produce a photo ID. Law enforcement, then in turn can research that information, which is what we were able to do on this current case.”
Lee asks the public to be vigilant and watchful. “If you see vehicles with large amounts of scrap metal or wire, and see people in places they don’t belong, call and let us know. We’re more than happy to check out suspicious activity or suspicious people. It may all turn out to be completely legitimate.”