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Metal thieves make off with copper wire from I-15 in record heist

Crime » Heist is largest of its kind in state history.

First Published Apr 01 2013 10:32 pm • Last Updated Apr 02 2013 09:24 pm

Thieves who targeted multiple light poles operated by the Utah Department of Transportation along Interstate 15 hauled off with the single largest amount of copper wire in the department’s history.

The thefts were discovered sometime last week, according to UDOT spokesman John Gleason. In all, between 30,000 and 35,000 feet of wire from 11 junction boxes along a mile-long stretch between 1000 North and 1800 North were ripped from the poles, darkening that stretch on the main artery. Gleason said it would cost about $50,000 to replace it all.

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Junction boxes are located on the ground along I-15. The thieves smashed holes in the boxes and accessed the wires running to the light poles.

"It’s somewhat of a mystery to us as to how something like this could happen in the middle of I-15," Gleason said.

The brazen act likely took the thieves several hours or even days, and the suspects probably had to use a vehicle to pull the heavy wire out from under the ground and transport all of it out. Gleason said it was likely that the thieves could have been disguised as construction workers so they wouldn’t raise the suspicion of passing motorists, a common practice of metal thieves, who steal valuable materials such as copper or platinum and sell their haul to metal recyclers. UDOT is a common target for thieves.

Gleason said that UDOT has seen the practice of stealing metal from its property increase over the past few years. In fiscal year 2012, UDOT spent more than $400,000 to replace stolen metal. The department has started replacing its copper wire with less valuable aluminum wire. It also has begun burying its junction boxes in random spots to make them harder for thieves to find.

Gleason added that anyone who sees something suspicious going on along the interstate or elsewhere should call police. UDOT would also be able to tell someone whether they have road work in a certain area.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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