A recent search by the Alabama sheriff’s office of a home in Cullman County for 152 pounds of copper wire and a generator stolen from an electric cooperative turned up an unexpected find: a missing car that had broken down on a nearby interstate.
James Raymond Brown and Clyde Michael Brown, both 37, each face three counts of first-degree theft in connection with the property stolen from a Cullman Electric Cooperative substation under construction. Charges also include the vehicle, which did not belong to the co-op.
Other charges against the pair of cousins could arise as the investigation continues, according to a Jan. 31 statement from the Cullman County Sheriff’s office.
The thefts will delay completion of the Ryan’s Creek substation until after its scheduled fall 2020 opening. A co-op spokesperson said damages are estimated at $6,000—for $300 worth of copper.
“In a finished, fully functioning substation, there would have been more copper for the thieves to go after, but all they got were ground wires,” said Brian Lacy, manager of communications and external affairs at the Cullman, Alabama, co-op.
Police returned the generator to the co-op and the car to its owner. “Anytime we are able to arrest thieves and recover property we feel that’s a win for the community,” said Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry.
Lacy said reporting requirements under the state’s scrap metal law helped law enforcement crack the case. Investigators’ discovery of the stolen property at the Browns’ residence led them to a local metal recycler, who identified the suspects and confirmed that they had taken the copper there.
The theft was the co-op’s third since last year, said Lacy. One of the incidents resulted in a power outage for several thousand members lasting a few hours, he said. That theft, like the one at Ryan’s Creek, occurred in a remote location—an easier target for thieves.
Lacy said if the substation were energized, the outcome could have been serious injury or death.
“We hope that talking about this incident will raise some awareness and serve as a deterrent. When you add to it the threat of jail time and fines, it’s simply not worth the risk.”