Thieves stealing copper affecting businesses, residents

Published 7:27 pm Thursday, January 3, 2019

Local law enforcement and officials with AT&T are working to determine who is responsible for the reported theft of copper telephone wire in Vicksburg and Warren County.

According to police and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, people are going to telephone lines, cutting them and stripping out the copper wire to sell. The thefts are also disrupting telephone service in the area, especially businesses along the frontage roads.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Vicksburg police Lt. Johnnie Edwards said police received three calls in December about copper wire thefts in the city. One, he said, occurred on Warrenton Road, another on North Frontage Road and the third on Rodenbaugh Drive off I-20 Frontage Road. The amount of cable taken was unavailable.

He said authorities believe the thefts are related and being committed by the same people.

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said deputies Dec. 31 received two calls from AT&T about stolen telephone cable. He said about 50 feet of cable was missing from a line on Culkin Road, while about 200 feet was missing on U.S. 61 South near LeTourneau Road. He said his office has worked with AT&T investigators on previous copper wire thefts.

Both thefts, he said, were in areas close to roads, adding in the past thefts have occurred in a more isolated areas.

AT&T spokesman Tarvis Thompson said AT&T officials are working with police and the sheriff’s office on the theft investigation to find the responsible parties.

“The theft of copper lines may affect some services for a limited number of nearby customers and we work to resolve those issues as quickly as possible. Copper theft is a serious matter that affects public safety and the community at large,” he said.

He said people with information on the thefts should call law enforcement or anonymously to AT&T Asset Protection at 1-888-871-2622.

Pace said people can also call Crime Stoppers at 601-355-TIPS (8477) or 1-866-481-8477.

Businesses impacted

George Carr, owner of George Carr Cadillac Buick GMC, said the copper thefts have created severe problems for his business on South Frontage Road.

“At least five times in the last 30 days, we have showed up for work and didn’t have telephone service,” he said.

“As a business owner, when you’re running ads on TV and radio and in the newspaper and on the internet and people call you and they don’t get an answer they assume that the number’s wrong or you’re going out of business when you’re actually open, it costs you a great deal of money,” Carr said.

“People can’t call in and check on their car that’s being serviced. I’ve got 50 employees here, their wives or their husbands can’t call them at work, and they don’t know why the phones aren’t working.

“You can understand it happening once or twice, but five times, it gets to be a nuisance and annoying.”

“What makes the problem more acute, Carr said, is the period right after Christmas and New Years “is our busiest week, and it seems like half the time we were without phone service.”

Freddy Abraham, whose business is on Indiana Avenue, said he has lost phone service four times on separate occasions, and each time for a period of 2 or 3 days.

“It’s usually in the morning when I come in, whether I’ve lost service,” he said. “That tells me basically they’re working undercover at night, I think.”

Selling melted copper

Pace said the people taking the copper are burning the insulation off the wires and going to metal recycling companies and selling the melted copper.

Gerald Ogle, manager of Vicksburg Recycling, said copper is a regulated metal and his company has to follow certain procedures under state law.

“That means we have to get an ID on people when they bring it in, get good pictures of the person at the scales selling it, and of the material when it’s set on the scale. We also have a camera over the scale taking pictures of that, and every day when we close up business, all of our pictures are submitted to Leads on Line.

“We’re a corporate company and all of our corporate accounts are set up like that at each location at the close of business all our recordings — all of our legal recordings of buying copper legally are sent in to the Secretary of State — the pictures, the ID the delivery vehicle they brought it in.

He said the company that owns Vicksburg Recycling also uses a system called “Scrap Dragon” that records pictures “every time we buy something on our warehouse scale we have a camera over our scale, our warehouse and truck scale.”

Also, he said, people bringing in metals like copper are not paid the same day unless the seller is a licensed business with the state or city.

“If we buy it off the street, state law says we have to hold the copper for three days, and on the fourth business day they can pickup their check,” he said.

Pace said the copper thefts can have a more serious consequence.

“This is not only an outright theft, but it also can place the public in danger in the event of an emergency if someone’s landline would not work because the cable is missing,” he said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

email author More by John