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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 4, 2006

Pole toppled in copper-theft try

Video: Man arrested in suspected copper theft
StoryChat: Comment on this story

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

An improvised tool sits next to a utility pole which was allegedly chopped down by a man attempting to steal copper wire. Police arrested the suspect.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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An improvised tool sits next to a utility pole which was allegedly chopped down by a man attempting to steal copper wire. Police arrested the suspect.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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HAWAI'I KAI Police said they foiled a copper theft early yesterday after a 47-year-old Honolulu man chopped down a utility pole and attempted to rip wire from a transformer near the Koko Head trail in Koko Head District Park.

In addition to the copper theft, the man cut several phone lines that temporarily knocked out service to patches of customers living near the trailhead, police said. Police also recovered more than 40 pounds of copper wire and improvised wire-cutting equipment that allowed the man to reach high places, police said.

The suspect was checked out by city Emergency Medical Services technicians and arrested on suspicion of criminal tampering, a misdemeanor, and second-degree criminal property damage, a felony.

The criminal tampering charge is tied to the loss of phone service, police said.

Since May, copper thieves have caused an estimated $300,000 in damage to state freeways along the central and west O'ahu corridor, ripping out wiring from about 100 light fixtures and leaving stretches of darkness in several primary areas: from the H-1/H-2 interchange through the Ka Uka Boulevard and Pineapple Road overpasses; two miles on H-1 westbound between the Kunia and Makakilo exits; and three miles eastbound on the same freeway coming out of 'Ewa toward Waipahu.

Hawaiian Electric Co. has had 20 copper-theft incidents this year at various sites, and at least six of them have resulted in power failures, according to Jim Beavers, HECO's manager of safety/security and facilities. The utility pole cut down yesterday did not belong to HECO, the company said.

Yesterday's arrest was at least the fourth made by police this year as metal thefts continue to plague all areas of the island. Police foiled one man's attempt to tear copper sheeting from the roof of a Board of Water Supply building in May, but he still caused more than $5,000 in damage.

In August, police arrested a man who was caught with $200 worth of copper wire behind an abandoned building in Kalihi next to TheBus barn.

Police have at least five felony investigations open in connection with the thefts.

Honolulu police received a call at 6:35 a.m. of a suspicious person in the area of the Koko Head trailhead near the former Job Corps site in Koko Head District Park. Responding officers found the 47-year-old man attempting to remove a transformer box from a felled electric pole.

The pole appeared to be chopped down. The man was arrested and was found with several wire and bolt cutters attached to long poles, along with other equipment and more than 40 pounds of copper wire in the bed of his red pickup truck.

"I don't think the monetary reward justifies what he's doing," said Honolulu police Capt. Robert Green. "The guy has no idea whether these lines are live."

Five police officers and the suspect were exposed to oil from the transformer on the pole.

The oil in the soil and on the hands of the police and suspect may contain PCBs, a carcinogen, said Honolulu Fire Capt. Kenison Tejada. The officers and suspect were decontaminated with fresh water at the scene.

Firefighters have contacted the utility pole's owner to ask about the oil in the transformer.

Reach Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.