About 800 Lane County, Oregon residents were unable to report emergencies via telephone land lines on Monday after metal thieves stole about 470 feet of Qwest phone line west of Junction City.
Affected residents with emergencies were urged to report them in person to a Fire Station. Volunteers were available to take emergency reports at the two fire stations and then relay them to the 911 Center by radio.
The value of the stolen wire was estimated at $18,000, said Sgt. Fred Swank of the Lane County Sheriff’s Office. Because the first-degree theft involved the disruption of a public utility, it rises to the level of a felony crime, he said.
The wire hung from telephone poles about 30 feet to 40 feet above the ground. “Someone had to physically climb up the pole to do this,” Qwest spokesman Bob Gravely said. “When someone knows what they’re doing, they can definitely do some damage.”
Gravely said people who steal telephone wire tend to work in rings. The recent arrest of a suspect in the Kelso, Wash., area led to the arrest of nine other people also accused of participating in a series of metal thefts, he said. The thieves almost certainly stole the telephone wire for its copper content, he said.
Swank said authorities have contacted local metal recycling companies to alert them to anyone trying to unload quantities of copper wire. “But they were probably smart enough to take it out of our area,” he said of the thieves. “It had to be somebody with a pretty significant truck to load it up.”
Swank said the crime put people in jeopardy. “If you live out where there’s no cell tower for your cellphone, and a land line is your only contact for police, fire or medical emergency, then this puts you at risk,” he said.
Swank said the thefts reflect a broken criminal justice system in which criminals know they will see little if any jail time if apprehended. “As thieves become more and more brazen, this is the kind of stuff they’re going to pull,” he said. (info from The Register-Guard)