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Sporadic Copper Wire Thefts Present Real Problem for Area

Saturday, February 3, 2018 @ 12:02 AM

Posted by Scott Shindledecker

phone lines 2CLARION CO., Pa. (EYT) – Although the issue isn’t as prevalent as what it once was, sporadic thefts of copper wire from utility lines can present a big problem.

Clarion-based State Police have seen a handful of incidents during the last 11 months.

In Clarion County, there have been least three such incidents since March 2017. One was reported on March 15, 2017, another in August of 2017, and the most recent on January 28.

Interestingly enough, all three occurred in Paint Township, in the Route 66 area.

In the most recent theft, two Pittsburgh men, Terry Jay Fisher and Glenn Allen Jeffries, were arrested on Monday following a manhunt.

According to a criminal complaint filed by Trooper Manns, the two men allegedly conspired to cut a Verizon telephone line with the intention of stealing copper from the line.

“The theft of secondary metal and criminal mischief occurred to an active telephone line that is the sole means of communication to some of the Verizon Customers in the area,” said Tpr. Manns in the criminal complaint. “This constitutes a substantial interruption of a public communication service.”

In the August 12, 2017 incident, two area men, 26-year-old Jacob D. Vasbinder, of Rimersburg, and 56-year-old Barry Lynn Steele Sr., of Chicora, were arrested in relation to the theft of scrap copper wire from a dumpster on property belonging to Colony Homes.

Vasbinder’s case, as well as another one involving drug charges from a July 2017 incident, are still pending.

Steele pleaded guilty on January 3 to a felony charge of criminal trespass in relation to the copper wire theft and to drug possession in relation to a February 2017 incident. He will be sentenced on February 7 for both crimes.

It is not yet known if police believe the other thefts are related.

“These thefts are more than an unnecessary inconvenience; they put people’s lives in danger and can cost thousands of dollars to repair,” Verizon said in an earlier statement. “We will not tolerate these deliberate and malicious acts against our customers and our communications network.”

Sgt. Scott Bauer, commander at the Clarion-based barracks, wouldn’t comment if the Paint Township thefts were related due to them being ongoing investigations. But, he did say that copper thefts, while not common, do happen on occasion.

“We’re not really having many copper thefts, but they do happen from time to time,” Bauer said.

Bauer did say the big problem with such thefts is that they can cause a danger to people who rely on landlines for their communication.

“Obviously, the lack of service can be a danger to people who may need to make a call for emergency services, older citizens and those with health issues,” Bauer said.

Bauer said area scrap yards have been helpful in terms of alerting police to such thefts.

“Yes, absolutely, the scrap yards are always willing to help,” Bauer said.

For other law enforcement officers in Clarion and Forest counties, they haven’t been experiencing such thefts.

Clarion Borough Police Chief William H. Peck IV and New Bethlehem Police Chief Scott Ryan both said their departments hadn’t investigated any copper thefts recently.

State Police Cpl. Tim Lencer – currently based in the Marienville barracks and previously working out of the Clarion barracks – said he’s seen very little of it recently.

“It comes and goes,” Cpl. Lencer said. “A lot of it depends on the price of copper. When it’s up, we’re likely to see more, when it’s down, not so much. Another thing that happens is when people get caught, they move to another area.”

“Clarion County is seeing a lot more lately from what I understand. When I worked there, we made a lot of arrests for it.”

“One time, we had a case where people had left their home for the day and thieves came in, dismantled the water pipes and left a huge mess,” Cpl. Lencer said.

According to infomine.com, a site dealing with mining markets and investment, copper is currently valued at $3.20 per pound.

Forest County Chief Deputy William D. Carbaugh said his department hasn’t seen much of it.

“We haven’t personally investigated it, but we have heard of it. Most of our theft cases involve ATVs,” Carbaugh said.

Venango County, Sugarcreek Borough Police Chief Matt Carlson said his department hasn’t investigated any recent copper thefts.

“We haven’t investigated anything in the last few months and hopefully it stays that way,” Chief Carlson said. “Most of the thefts occur in remote locations where they can take their time to take them down and strip the wire.”

Carlson said he believes it has become more difficult for thieves to unload their thefts locally.

“A lot of the scrap yards have learned what people are up to, and they are getting wary of taking it. Many yards require people to provide their driver’s licenses when they sell wire or pipes. And they can help us by calling police when they get a load of it that seems suspicious.”

Brookville Police Chief Jason Brown said it wasn’t something his department had dealt with recently.

Calls to Punxsutawney-based State Police were not returned.

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