Copper wire thieves take the crime to a new level

FRESNO, Calif.

Jose Camarena took Action News to the latest theft, off Belmont and Fresno Street. When thieves cut and removed the wires, it cut power to the street lamps overlooking Northbound 41, which leaves portions of the freeway in the dark.

"Whenever folks are pulled over to the side of the road, now they're in the dark instead of being under the light, it's a bit uncomfortable when you're waiting for the tow truck or some help," said Camarena.

Drivers will also notice, the meters aren't working like they should. Thieves knocked out the power to a number of on-ramp lights -- stripping the wire, and adding to the traffic congestion, as well as adding extra work for Caltrans.

"This pulls personnel and materials away from our primary responsibilities of potholes, fixing guard railing, fixing landscaping and fencing," said Camarena. He also says it's been costly; the department has vested more than 200 personnel hours to repair the problems and replace the wires at one location.

For those who spend a good chunk of their week on the road, the thefts are noticeable, and a little scary for people like commuter Brendan Wilson, who drives from Visalia to Fresno on a daily basis. "I'm driving there in the dark, home in the dark and when it's foggy when those lights aren't on I can't see where the road's heading ahead of me."

It's become a problem that cops and Caltrans are struggling to keep up with. "We're really having to rethink our security measures It's having to go one step further and more resources in trying to secure these locations," said Camarena.

Caltrans crews are also working to replace some of the copper wires with aluminum, but the quality just isn't as good. They're hoping you'll call if you see suspicious activity near their equipment.

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