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State asks for help protecting light-pole wiring from thieves

IndianState Police Lowell Post Cmdr. Jerry Williams describes impact stolen wires from light poles interstate highways during news conference Wednesday.

Indiana State Police Lowell Post Cmdr. Jerry Williams describes the impact of stolen wires from light poles on interstate highways during a news conference Wednesday. | Post-Tribune photo

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Updated: January 14, 2014 12:15PM

GARY — They may look like highway workers tending to light poles on the expressway, but it’s also possible they are thieves stealing copper wiring to sell for scrap, officials said Wednesday.

“We really need the public to help us,” Matt Deitchley, Indiana Department of Transportation Northwest District spokesman said Wednesday at a news conference.

“If you see anybody by these light poles, call 911,” he urged. “These thefts are on the rise. These thieves are doing just about anything they can to get these wires.”

The sale of scrap metal is big business, he added.

People wearing hard hats and reflective vests might appear to be working on Interstates 65 or 94, but if motorists see them, they should call police right away. Deitchley estimated the Northwest District has more than 4,000 poles along the highways.

One thief used a car to ram the metal box at the base of a pole, providing access to the wire but also weakening the metal support. That pole could collapse onto the highway and cause a serious crash, Deitchley said, though he did not know of a time when that actually had happened.

“No call is too small,” Indiana State Police Lowell Post Cmdr. Jerry Williams said, adding that callers should not approach the workers or the pole because the wires are live and could be dangerous. Additional state troopers and INDOT crews are patrolling some of the hardest hit areas and are watching for criminal activity, officials said.

No arrests have been made, Williams said.

In the last three years, the cost to repair light police damaged by scrap thieves reached $300,000, Deitchley said. But in addition to the cost to taxpayers, there’s also the danger posed to drivers by loss of lighting.

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