- Associated Press - Monday, October 27, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky authorities fought back against copper thieves Monday, offering a reward for information to solve a rash of thefts that stripped copper wire from highway lighting systems, leaving motorists in the dark.

The thefts, mostly along interstate ramps, have caused at least $2 million in damages in the past four years, said Deputy State Highway Engineer Nancy Albright.

This year, thieves have targeted entrance and exit ramp lights at least 37 times, she said.

“This is literally highway robbery, and the victims are Kentucky’s drivers,” Albright said.

The thefts, which disable highway lights, also raise safety concerns.

“Highway lights are out there for a reason,” Albright said. “They make a big difference when you’re trying to navigate an interstate interchange at night, particularly in a place you’re not familiar with.”

The state’s Transportation Cabinet has to dip into its highway maintenance budget to replace wiring and repair vandalized lights, she said. The maintenance budget, supported by motor fuels taxes paid at the pump, is used for such necessities as snow and ice removal and pothole and guardrail repairs.

To combat the thievery, the Transportation Cabinet and Kentucky State Police announced rewards of up to $2,500 for anyone providing information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for copper wire theft from highway lights. Rewards would be paid from Transportation Cabinet maintenance funds.

The agencies also are reaching out to metal recyclers for help in catching thieves.

Highway lights are one of many targets of copper thieves.

They have torn copper wire from walls of houses under construction and invaded churches for the copper in air conditioning units, said Sgt. Michael Webb, a state police spokesman.

Telephone cables have been taken, temporarily knocking out phone service, Webb said. Even the 911 tower in Whitley County was hit by copper thieves, temporarily shutting down the 911 center, he said.

In Carter County, thieves last month stole 25,000 feet of copper wire from exit ramps, said Mike Duncan, acting inspector general for the Transportation Cabinet. The repairs cost tens of thousands of dollars, he said.

The copper wire can fetch $2.25 to $2.75 per pound, he said. It brings more when stripped of its rubber insulation, he said.

Authorities think the thieves generally strike between midnight and 4 a.m., he said. Thieves often target areas where county roads are beside the highway ramps, he said.

“I wish I could tell you exactly how they’re doing it, but we haven’t caught anybody yet,” Duncan said.

The thefts are “risky business” because 480 volts of electricity surge through the wire, he said.


People with information about copper thefts from highway lighting systems can contact authorities by:

-Calling the Kentucky State Police hotline at (800) 222-5555.

-Calling Investigator Chuck Hines at the Transportation Cabinet’s Office of Inspector General at (502) 330-0441 or (502) 564-0501.

-Texting a message. The address is 67283. Type KSPTIP in the message field, leave a space and enter information about a crime.

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