A mile's worth of lights knocked out by copper wire thieves

FRESNO, Calif.

Street lights are out from Hayes at Shaw, all the way south to Gettysburg, and then west on Gettysburg from Hayes to Polk.

Daylight is the only light you'll see in this neighborhood. Street lights line Hayes Ave., but darkness envelops the area at night and you need look no further than the base of the lights for an explanation. A copper wire thief removed the electrical connections, and took the sense of security.

"If you're walking down here, it's pitch dark," said Kimberley Perkins, who lives right next to one of the broken street covers. "You can't see too much what's in front of you."

Neighbors say it's the third time copper wire thieves have knocked out their lights in less than a year, and they're far from alone.

Last week, Action News reported on thieves who hit the Liberty High School stadium in Madera Ranchos.

The week before that, we told you about thieves taking tens of thousands of dollars worth of wire from the Loma Vista community in Clovis.

Investigators say thefts are spiking now because of the economy and the recycling prices. Fresno area recyclers are paying about $3.90 a pound for copper right now.

That's up from a low of $2.70 a pound two years ago, but a little lower than the $4.30 a pound it was worth in the summer of 2008.

"Have I seen more copper? Yes, but I've seen more everything," said Randy Tosi of Bruno's Recycling in Fresno County. "It's tough out there and people need the money."

Tosi says thieves typically shop across the state for crooked recyclers. They pay slightly less than legitimate recyclers, but thieves can still get hundreds of dollars for one street's worth of wiring - so city crews have a tough time keeping up with them.

"It would be nice to have them fix these lights, you know, and come up with some type of a solution to where they can't do it again and again and again and again," said Rustin Estes, who lives in the darkened northwest Fresno neighborhood.

Action News showed you a device protecting street light wiring in Clovis, but it costs $150 per street lid, so it's expensive for cities with tight budgets.

Neighbors who reported the dark street lights to the city of Fresno were told it would be two to six months before crews fix the lights. They say having the wire repeatedly stolen must be more expensive than a $150 lid.

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