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Warrant Is Issued Over Power Line Vandalism

October 24, 2003|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — The FBI announced Thursday that a federal arrest warrant had been issued for a 62-year-old Spokane, Wash., man suspected of loosening bolts on high-power transmission towers in Northern California and southern Oregon in an apparent attempt to topple the mammoth structures.

The warrant charges Michael Devlyn Poulin with damaging or attempting to damage a tower in Anderson, just south of Redding at the northern edge of the Central Valley.

Authorities have been searching since Monday for Poulin, who also is suspected of loosening the bolts on another transmission tower outside Klamath Falls in southern Oregon.

If caught and convicted, Poulin could face 20 years in federal prison.

The towers carry high-voltage lines that are part of the electrical grid for the Western United States. Though removal of the bolts could conceivably cause one of the towers to topple in a gale-force wind, experts say it would be next to impossible for that to happen. And even then the grid is engineered so that other legs of the network would pick up the slack and prevent region-wide power failures.

Poulin is suspected of removing about 18 nuts and bolts from two of the four legs on the tower outside Anderson before three employees from a nearby lumber mill spotted him. When the men confronted the suspect, he fled.

The three men chased a Toyota pickup truck registered to Poulin, snapping a picture as they sped the freeway. Eventually they gave up the chase, confident that law officers alerted by their cell phone call would snag the fleeing truck. But by the time the California Highway Patrol responded, the truck had disappeared.

Some officers expressed concern that Poulin might have used a Honda motorcycle attached to the back of the truck to reach towers out in the north woods or might be targeting other lines around the state. Operators of the power grid said they had increased foot and aerial patrols in recent days because of such concerns.

Poulin is described as white, 5 feet 11, 250 pounds, with salt-and-pepper hair and beard, brown eyes and wearing wire rim glasses.

His gray 1997 Toyota T100 pickup truck has a white shell with the Washington state license plate A36457P. Anyone with information about Poulin is asked to contact the FBI.

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