Copper thieves move on to freeway lights

FRESNO, Calif.

In just the past 6 months, Caltrans has spent more than $100,000 on copper wire repairs or replacement around the Valley.

State officials worry copper theft on freeways is a dangerous trend. After a one-week outage, lights along freeway 41 in Central Fresno are back on.

Caltrans electricians said thieves cut the copper wire running to freeway lights on this stretch of northbound 41 in two places.

"They did attempt to steal the wire," said Tami Conrado, a spokesperson for Caltrans. "They had open boxes and cut the wire in an attempt to pull from one box to another, about a half mile section of copper wire."

Last month, 15,000 feet of wire was stolen from lights along highway 180 near Marks in West Central Fresno.

In the last fiscal year Caltrans spent more than $330,000 for wire theft. Midway through this fiscal year the agency has spent about $115,000.

Over in Clovis, part of Buchanan High School is still in the dark. Last week, crooks yanked the precious metal out of these light poles.

Dallas Lee's daughter plays on this travel soccer team. Thursday, just after sunset, they returned from winter break. The team was surprised by the darkness.

"We have another tournament at the end of this month, so we're trying to get ready for it. But, it's kinda hard to do that when we don't have lights," Lee said.

Eventually the players moved to a nearby softball field.

Clovis Unified spokesperson Kelly Avants said repairs to the lights will begin as soon as Friday.

"Because we were on winter break, we had to come back Monday, assess the damage. We have a third party contractor whose now been assigned." Avants said.

The district has already spent $25,000 on stolen wires this year.

On Friday Clovis Unified should have an idea of how long the repairs will take at Buchanan High School, and how much they will cost.

As for Caltrans, it expects repair costs will rise considerably, which only hurts an already tight state budget.

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