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Officials Identify Man, 39, Electrocuted Stealing Wire

June 24, 1998|VANESSA HUA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LANCASTER — A 39-year-old man electrocuted while trying to steal copper wire from an electric line was identified by the coroner's office Tuesday as Thomas Michael Charles of Lancaster.

Charles' body was found at the base of 30-foot wooden utility pole Sunday afternoon, said Det. Steve Davis of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. An autopsy Tuesday determined that Charles was electrocuted, as indicated by burns on his hand.

There were no witnesses.

Snipped cables dangling from the utility pole and a pair of cutters found near the body led detectives to conclude that Charles was stealing valuable copper wire, which fetches about 60 cents a pound as scrap, authorities said.

It was unclear what type of line Charles was after, because utility poles usually carry both telephone and power lines. Southern California Edison and Pacific Bell executives said both companies suffer from copper and aluminum wire theft--an industrywide problem.

Once a month, law enforcement and security executives from private industry meet at the California Metal Investigators Assn. to discuss theft issues.

Southern California Edison discovers about 200 cases of wire theft a year, said Jim Robertson, a utility investigator. The wires range in thickness from that of a pencil lead to a man's thumb, and can carry 6,000 volts of electricity. There have been other instances of electrocution, when burglars broke into substations and opened power transformers despite posted warning signs, Robertson said.

Idle facilities in rural areas are prime targets, such as lines connected to an empty home. At times, thieves have used tree branch clippers to cut miles of wire.

"We want people to stay away from the lines," said Alis Clausen, Antelope Valley region manager for Southern California Edison. "It's a dangerous business, even for people who are well trained."

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