Two suspects are under arrest in a brazen late-night copper theft that left more than 1,600 Illinois co-op members without power and did considerable damage. A sizable reward might have helped lead authorities to the pair.
"We had some people attach a truck to copper ground wires on one of our poles and start trying to drive away and pull it down off the pole," said Randy Olson, director of communications at Wayne-White Electric Cooperative.
"When they did that, the copper line broke and it bounced back up into the transmission line, which instantly knocked 1,629 people out of power at just about midnight," said Olson.
"They were crazy to try something like that. You're literally risking your life."
Crews sent out to a rural area near Zif, Illinois, late Nov. 27 restored power in about 90 minutes. But Wayne-White officials have had it with copper thieves.
"In order to try to keep this from happening again, and let people know we mean business, our manager and board decided to offer a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those parties involved," said Olson.
Sure enough, Olson said a person who knows the suspects and was aware of what happened contacted the Clay County Sheriff's Department.
"The $5,000 made somebody talk," said Olson.
Fairfield, Illinois-based Wayne-White has had cases in the past where thieves have stripped copper from poles. While the copper doesn't cost much, fixing the damage does. The co-op has so far spent more than $25,000 in repairs—not including this incident. Thieves have also caused damage on members' side of the meter, costing homeowners over $12,000.
"This was the most brazen attempt in quite a while. We just decided we're going to get really forceful on this, so that's why we offered the reward," said Olson. "We want to put a stop to this."
Investigators have charged Ryan M. Staton, 36, and Andrew J. Staley, 37, both of Flora, Illinois, with theft over $10,000 and theft under $500. Investigators are also looking into whether the men are connected to past copper thefts at not only Wayne-White but at neighboring co-ops.