$24,000 worth of copper stolen
By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Peter Boylan
For the second time in four days, copper thieves struck the westbound lanes of H-1 Freeway, causing a small explosion early yesterday and stealing more than a mile of copper wire in Makakilo worth $24,000.
Thieves have taken 14,400 feet, or 2.7 miles, of copper wire from light fixtures along H-1 Freeway this week. So far this year, thieves have taken more than $153,600 worth of copper wire from O'ahu freeways.
Shortly after midnight yesterday, a motorist driving on H-1 in the westbound direction just past the Makakilo Drive overpass witnessed an explosion and a shower of white sparks just before five lights went dark, according to police and the state Department of Transportation.
Police from the Kapolei station were scrambled to the scene but the thieves made off with 6,000 feet of No. 2 gauge copper wire.
"That's a real dark stretch of roadway over there that poses a public safety concern for the community," said police Maj. Michael Moses, head of District 8 operations.
"With all of the construction going out there, and now with no lighting, this makes the situation all the more dangerous."
DOT repair crews found wire cutters, rubber gloves, shredded wire and other tools strewn among the grass on the side of the road yesterday morning.
DOT spokesman Scott Ishikawa said lane markers and road reflectors have been installed in the area in response to queries from lawmakers who have complained about the darkened stretch of roadways.
"We have been working with law enforcement on the matter and are looking at alternatives to copper (wire) at this point," Ishikawa said.
It was the second major copper theft in the last four days and the fifth in the last six months.
On Tuesday thieves stole more than a mile and a half of copper wire worth $33,600 from a stretch of H-1 Freeway in Kunia.
DOT workers discovered the theft of 8,400 feet of No. 2 gauge copper wire when they tried to reactivate a set of nine freeway lights that had gone out because of an overloaded transformer.
After making repairs, DOT workers tried to turn on the lights. They discovered the theft when the lights failed to operate.
A task force comprised of Honolulu police and state Deputy Sheriffs was formed more than a year and a half ago to combat the freeway thefts but they have been unsuccessful at stopping the thefts, which occur in areas of the freeway far from residential communities.
Miles of H-1 Freeway and H-2 Freeway near Ka Uka Boulevard have been left dark for more than a year because of copper thieves.
Losses in copper theft cases reported to Honolulu police in 2006 and 2007 surpassed $920,000, police have said.
Estimates of the cost to repair damage by copper thieves to state roads exceed $1 million.
Reach Peter Boylan at firstname.lastname@example.org.