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Smithsburg man gets three-year suspended sentence for stealing 200 pounds of copper wire

Michael Steven Bray was ordered to pay $1,000 in restitution and was put on probation

May 15, 2012|By DAVE McMILLION and DON AINES | davem@herald-mail.com

A Washington County Circuit Court judge Tuesday gave a Smithsburg man a three-year suspended sentence and ordered him to pay $1,000 in restitution in connection with the theft of 200 pounds of copper wire from a Potomac Edison substation last year that caused about $8,000 in damages, according to court records.

Judge W. Kennedy Boone III also placed Michael Steven Bray, 31, on three-years’ probation.

Bray was sentenced after he pleaded guilty to fourth-degree burglary Tuesday. As part of the plea agreement, the prosecution agreed to dismiss charges including malicious destruction of property, theft and reckless endangerment.

Bray often recycled metals legally, but committed the burglary after he “reached a point of economic crisis,” his attorney Timothy Conlon said.

The case involved the theft of 52 wires that are used to ground the Smithsburg facility to make it safe to work there, said Potomac Edison spokesman Todd Meyers. When the wires are cut, it not only poses a serious threat of electrocution to any utility worker who enters the facility, but to any thief, Meyers said.

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If a thief using tools to cut wire is close to a source of power in the substation, electricity can “jump straight over” to the person, Meyers said.

“People do the stupidest things,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

The Ringgold substation at Md. 64 and Bikle Road is usually unmanned, but at 5:45 a.m. on Aug. 16, 2011, a power company employee happened to be at the facility and heard noises coming from a tree line at the northeast corner of the substation, according to court records.

The worker saw some of the cut ground wires inside the substation and called police, the court records said.

Deputy Chris Peiffer of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office responded to the substation, where he discovered that a hole had been cut in a metal fence, the records said.

Sixty-three ground wires were cut throughout the substation, with 11 lying on the ground and 52 stolen, Detective Cpl. Greg Alton said in a criminal complaint.

The cut wire weighed 200 pounds and was valued at $800, the records said.

At the scene, Peiffer found two sets of fresh footprints in some mud and saw what appeared to be fresh tire impressions in some grass, the records said.

Patrick Ridge, an asset protection specialist for Allegheny Power, sent out an alert about the theft to local scrap dealers and police. The wire had been spray-painted pink to make it identifiable, Alton said.

The next day, Trooper Dave Rush from the Chambersburg barrack of the Pennsylvania State Police contacted Ridge and said he had found some of the stolen wire at Newcomer’s Truck Parts, Inc., a scrap-metal dealer in Chambersburg, Alton said.

Alton reviewed the transaction documentation and determined that Bray had sold 29 pounds of the wire to Newcomer’s on Aug. 16, he said.  He also discovered that Bray sold 210 pounds of copper wire to Scrap Wire and Cable in Frederick, Md., on Aug. 16.

Meyers said the $1,000 that Bray will have to pay as restitution will cover the cost of the stolen copper wire, but he declined to comment on the sentence.

“I’m glad someone was caught. We catch people all the time,” Meyers said.

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