By Kathi Bliss
With a scrap sale value nearing $3 per pound, copper is becoming seen by some as a “precious metal.”
That fact is becoming evident in Central Texas this month, as reports and arrests trickle in of copper thefts. In Caldwell County alone, three arrests were made within a matter of days after suspects in what appear to be unrelated incidents of suspects stealing electrical wire from oil wells.
Wells are a target, experts say, because they are generally located in poorly-lit, rural areas, and criminals with electrical skills can disconnect and pull the wires in a matter of minutes.
On Jan. 22, the first such arrest in Caldwell County happened when a deputy observed a suspicious vehicle parked on Salt Flat Road.
An investigation of the situation yielded about 100 feet of insulated copper wire, which the deputy believed to have been removed from an oil well in the area. One hundred feet of electrical wire yields, in general, around two pounds of copper.
Harwood resident Michael David Williams, 47, was arrested and charged with Theft of Copper, which is a State Jail Felony.
On Feb. 7, a deputy patrolling Salt Flat Road again found a vehicle which seemed suspicious. This time, the deputy observed headlights in a field. Upon noticing the deputy’s patrol car, the driver turned out the headlights and attempted to flee.
The deputy was able to stop the vehicle, and arrested Linda Michelle Jackson, 49, and Christopher Adam Meredith, 40. In addition to other charges, both were charged with Theft of Copper.
Also this week, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) Rangers announced the arrest of a man in Williamson County who is believed to have burglarized several electrical substations and stealing the electrical copper wire.
LCRA began surveillance of their substations after a December theft at a Pedernales Electric Co-op substation in Andice.
Although it was at one time common for wire to be stolen from open construction projects, the problem has tapered, at least in Caldwell County, as the economy has slogged and construction has slowed. However, according to local electricians, the problem still exists.
The Lockhart Police Department has reported no recent calls of copper theft.
A larger problem was solved by changes in state law and recycling procedures last year, when it became required to hold a state air conditioning repair license to recycle copper from air conditioning units. The change was spurred by a rash of thieves stealing exterior air conditioning units from residences and businesses, and taking the units for recycling.
Caldwell County residents are asked to be on alert, especially in areas near oil wells, for suspicious activity. Although no official figures are available at this time, copper thefts are believed to have caused thousands of dollars worth of property damage in recent months.
Anyone suspecting suspicious activity should call the Lockhart Police Department at 398-4401, or the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office at 398-6777.