Ten Cents on a Copper Penny

Robbers are systematically stealing the copper wires that power the streetlights over Atlanta’s freeways.

Officials with the company that supplies wires to Georgia’s Department of Transportation said they have never seen a crime this size or this bold before. The thieves are ripping out the wires that power the highway lights, and in the most recent case, they stole $250,000 worth of copper wire.

“What they do is get behind the wall where they can’t be seen.  These are junction boxes. They pull the box lids,” said Andy O’Kelley with Brooks-Berry-Haynie.

The company installs the wire and lights for the DOT. O’Kelley said once the lid is off, the thieves start cutting the copper wire.

“There may be a number of guys, because it is very heavy. Now, they are getting more bold and actually going into the installation and pulling it out. These circuits are 480-volt circuits, and 120 volts or less could kill a person. Somebody knows what they are doing without getting killed,” O’Kelley said.

So, this is a hideously dangerous thing to do, and according to the scrap metal guy they interview later, the controls on people selling them copper are, like, totally strict and nobody could ever get away with it. The $250k of retail copper might be worth $20k on the black market. So it’s completely risky and really stuipd–perfect for Atlanta crime.

The first direction the detectives go is to try to find a corrupt scrap metal guy. There’s gotta be one, and there is, but it’s the wrong guy, and something hilarious is discovered when they investigate him.

The real motive for the thieves is not the copper but the light, or rather the lack thereof. Once the streetlights are cut off, the thieves have a dark freeway below, where they can get up to even sneaker, and stupider, mischief.