Copper thieves cause more than $1,000,000 in damage

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) Officials say it's a frustrating and expensive problem. For the third time in the last two months copper thieves have damaged lights on I-75.

Dark overpasses and unlit exits are becoming common discoveries for road crews in Kentucky, and the frequency of those crimes is increasing.

"We've documented 25 incidents of copper theft from highway lighting over the last four years and about half of those thefts, 12 of the 25, have occurred in the past year," said Chuck Wolfe, Executive Director of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

The thieves appear to be hitting in stages. Wolfe believes they first come during the day, cutting the power to the light, then returning at night to collect the copper.

"This is not something you do just on a whim," he said.

The value of the stolen copper can't compare to the damage caused. Over the last four years the transportation cabinet estimates they've spent 1.2 million dollars repairing damage caused by thieves. That money comes from taxpayers.

"It has to come out of the maintenance fund, of the Transportation Cabinet," Wolfe said. "This is the same fund that pays for snow and ice removal and a host of other things."

To try to curb the thefts, the cabinet is working with Kentucky State Police to develop what they're calling a coordinated enforcement response.

"If you are traveling at night on interstates and you see a line of lights that aren't on, I can pretty well bet that they have been hit by the copper thieves," Wolfe said.

He says those thieves may be wearing hi-visibility gear to try to look like a normal work crew but he encourages drivers who see anything that looks out of place to call police or the Office of the Inspector General at 502-564-0501.

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