THERMAL — A suspected metal thief suffered electrical burns Dec. 24 in Thermal during a “theft gone wrong,” Imperial Irrigation District officials said.
A crew member found the man about 10 a.m. near Avenue 61 and Tyler Street.
He was dispatched to fix electrical equipment after the agency received reports of a power outage in the area at 9:03 a.m.
“We sent a trouble-shooter to investigate it and he found a guy laying in the bushes,” IID spokesman Bob Schettler said. “He could’ve been there for awhile depending on how quickly our residents called (after the outage).”
Witnesses reported other people were seen fleeing the scene.
“This guy got hurt and they left him,” Schettler said.
The suspect’s name was not available.
About 30 customers lost power and crews had to replace 40 feet of electrical lines. Twenty- five of the customers had power restored once crews responded, but it took about two hours to bring the remaining five online.
No copper wiring was taken.
Schettler estimated the metal wiring could’ve been sold for $200 at a scrap yard, but he added response, repairs and the investigating cost IID $14,000.
The incident was one of at least 35 thefts this year within IID’s jurisdiction, which includes the eastern Coachella Valley and parts of Imperial County.
They cost the agency and its customers more than $400,000 that could have gone to other services, Schettler said.
Officials say it’s rare for any suspects to be apprehended, although one was arrested following a theft in the summer.
Incidents often result in expensive damage to equipment that may be dangerous once exposed.
“Stealing copper is not only dangerous to the thieves themselves, but it also places our field crews and the public at risk,” Interim Energy Manager Mario Escalera said in a news release.
He added that IID officials pursue prosecution of suspects to the fullest extent of the law.
“Tampering with power lines or substations is a federal offense,” Escalera said.
“Not only is the practice of stealing copper illegal, it is also very dangerous.”
Metal thefts aren’t unusual in the Coachella Valley, and thieves often steal the material to sell it to recycling centers for cash.
In an effort to track theft, scrap yards are required to verify the names of sellers.
Laws were enacted about three years ago requiring buyers to record information from sellers, including the date of a transaction, the seller’s name, driver’s license and license plate, and a photo of the material.