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Published: Wednesday, 6/27/2007

Cable and wire theft linked to 6 people killed in southeast Michigan


LANSING, Mich. -- The next time the power goes out, the culprit may be thieves, not Mother Nature.

A growing problem with the theft of utility cables that contain copper is compromising telephone and electrical service, along with public safety, state regulators said Wednesday in a consumer alert.

"If you see suspicious activity around a substation or utility lines, report it to the police immediately," Michigan Public Service Commissioner Monica Martinez said in a statement. "Your action could protect the reliability of your utility service, and you may even be responsible for saving a life."

So far this year, AT&T has reported to the commission more than 125 incidents of stolen cable affecting more than 13,000 customers. Detroit Edison has had 250 incidents.

According to the commission, six people in southeast Michigan were killed last year either from falls or electrocution while they were trying to steal copper. Vandalized electric substations pose a major safety hazard to utility employees, passers-by and those living near the substation, it said.

It warned that copper cable thefts can cause electric and telephone service outages for entire neighborhoods, while power outages can knock out traffic signals and a loss of telephone service can make it impossible for people to call 9-1-1 in an emergency.

The price of copper has risen almost sixfold since 2002 as global demand has made copper more expensive, the alert said. That has made anything containing copper utility cables, copper piping and construction materials -- a draw for thieves who sell it for its scrap value.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com

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