Suspect Nabbed in Va. Co-op Copper Theft

A suspect in a series of copper thefts at a Virginia electric co-op’s substations was nabbed moments after what authorities said was his latest crime. The co-op credited local law enforcement and some cutting-edge technology it recently installed.

Teddy Eugene Speights Jr.

Teddy Eugene Speights Jr.

The Louisa County Sheriff's Office said Teddy Eugene Speights Jr., 47, is suspected in multiple thefts at three Rappahannock Electric Cooperative substations since December 2016.

The incidents created safety hazards, inconvenienced members with outages and left the co-op with a $100,000-plus damage tab.

REC recently installed at its substations sensors that are monitored by an alarm company. When it detects unauthorized entry, the monitoring company immediately notifies law enforcement.

That's what happened early April 6. Deputies dispatched to the scene reported that they saw Speights' car leaving the area. He was pulled over a short time later and arrested without incident.

Speights faces four felony counts, including destruction of property worth more than $1,000. Authorities also said copper from the substation was recovered.

Just one day earlier, a REC substation in neighboring Spotsylvania County was hit.

In that incident, the co-op was able to get a photo of the suspect through surveillance video. Louisa County investigators told their Spotsylvania counterparts that Speights' description matched the man in the photo.

Ann Lewis, director of communications and public relations at Fredericksburg, Virginia-based REC, said the copper thefts resulted in several outages "and well over $100,000 in damages and repairs." 

"The most recent caused REC to move in a mobile substation due to concerns about potential damage to the power transformer," added Lewis.

Not to mention the safety hazards.

"This was a dangerous situation that put the safety of an entire community at risk," said Maxie Rozell, REC manager of safety, security and risk management. "Removal of the wire compromised protective and control equipment in the substation."

REC worked closely with the Louisa County Sheriff to investigate the thefts. On its Facebook page, the sheriff's office wrote that Speights' arrest clears "multiple cases in both ours and neighboring jurisdictions."

"This proves that taking wire from power substations is a very dangerous crime in more than one way," the post added.