Duke Energy Copper Theft
April 1st 2015 LINCOLNTON, N.C. — Lincolnton police with the assistance of multiple agencies charged five people in connection to a string of copper theft targeting Duke Energy substations.
Arrested and charged with felony first-degree trespassing: Carl Matthew Wright (Gastonia), David Alexander Wright (Gastonia), Austin James Spurling (Lincolnton), Don Tyler Polk, and Shelley Carol Pettigrew (Clover).
Detective Robert Hayes says the group looked for abandoned substations to target, and may be linked to five similar thefts in three other counties including Gaston, Catawba, and York County.
“They scout these places out, go after hours or even in the middle of the day,” said Hayes.
The investigation also led to the search warrant execution at a local Gastonia scrap yard. Investigators believe these individuals are part of a larger copper theft ring.
“I believe this goes back to years prior. I believe one of the individuals learned from his father, I think he taught him the trade,” said Hayes.
Police say the crimes may also be linked to a series of copper thefts in South Carolina. One incident in early March caused thousands of people to be without power for three hours. Three people were arrested in that case.
Authorities ask the public to be vigilant and report suspicious noise or activities that occur near or around the substations. Copper theft effects substation safety and is a risk to the public. Hayes estimates the thefts linked to the five arrested recently, resulted in damages up to $3 million dollars.
“A lot of them involve these transformers that have thousands of gallons of oil inside. They will leak these transformers which the EPA then gets involved because there are damages to the soil, and the expenses to clean it up,” he said.
Some of the individuals were arrested earlier in the year, but police waited for the conclusion of the three month long investigation to announce the arrest, saying the cases covers several jurisdictions and came full circle this week.
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