Copper thieves leave I-95 in the dark

By John Bachman - bio | email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - Palm Beach County officials say a group of thieves stole copper wiring, which powers the street lights, leaving I-95 near the 45th Street exit in the dark.

Copper wire is sold on the black market.

"From many standpoints, money issue wise, safety issue wise, it's extremely annoying," said Mike Atkins, maintenance manager for Florida Department of Transportation in Palm Beach County.

Atkins says thieves start during the day when the lights and the 480 volts of electricity that runs through the coppers wires are turned off. He says someone cuts the wires, so when they return at night, they are safe to pull. "I thought maybe it was just a fluke that the wires were missing. But as it went on, we realized we had a real serious problem on our hands," he said.

The problem keeps getting worse. Right now, at least seven locations along I-95 in Palm Beach County have been poached by people illegally pulling copper wires for personal profit.

So far, FDOT says thieves have taken more than a mile and a half of copper wire, and it cost us - the taxpayers - $50,000.

A similar rash of wire rip-offs happened a couple of years ago along Southern Boulevard. Authorities thought they had stopped the thefts when they installed locking nuts and bolts on the access panels.

Recently, however, the wire started disappearing again. Atkins says they plan on installing locking devices like that clamp down on the wire securing it in place.

Also, they are now working with law enforcement to keep the remaining working lights on the busy highway glowing bright.

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