Judge executive asks for copper theft penalties to be increased

PIKEVILLE – Copper theft has been a problem for some time in Appalachia, but a recent spike in these criminal acts has caused Sen. Ray S. Jones II, D-Pikeville, and Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford to try and curb the increasing problem.

In a letter sent to Jones on Jan. 31, Rutherford encouraged the Senator to introduce legislation during the current legislative session that will increase the penalty for those convicted of stealing copper to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Jones agrees with Rutherford.

“Across the state, theft of copper in homes, businesses and churches continues to be a growing problem,” Jones said. “It’s bad enough that thieves are robbing us, but when they put people’s lives at risk, this issue escalates. I am drafting legislation that would make it a felony if, while stealing copper, an individual disables 911 communications, interferes with communication with medical providers or causes loss of power for healthcare providers.”

Rutherford and Jones also agree on the reason copper thefts have increased.

“These thieves are stealing copper in an attempt to continually support their drug habits,” Rutherford said. “There must be harsher laws against these vandals. Nothing is safe anymore, whether it is a home, church, business, hospital, transmission line or whatever.”

Rutherford added that law enforcement officials most times say the proceeds from the sale of stolen copper is used to supply drug habits, which Rutherford says further proves addicts will stop at nothing to “get a fix.”

“Copper has become more precious in central Appalachia than gold,” Rutherford wrote in his letter to Jones. “Imagine a period of time when copper theft shuts down telephone and emergency systems such as 911. These nocturnal bandits are putting people’s lives, and their own lives, in danger.”

Rutherford asked Jones if a committee hearing is held on this issue he be notified so he could appear alongside Jones to discuss this issue.


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