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Thief risks life for $10 worth of live power cable

A thief risked his life for $10 worth of copper metal last week, leaving nearly 700 customers of North Bend’s Tanner Electric Cooperative without power for hours.

An unidentified person opened two underground utility vaults near the Snoqualmie Valley Trail in North Bend about 9 p.m. Monday, June 14, and removed copper from the power-return components.

The units channel 7,200 volts at about 50 amps, current 60 times more powerful than a household outlet.

“Voltage can cause physical damage. It can kill you,” said Tanner Electric General Manager Steve Walter. “When it’s cut, and you grab both ends, you now make that circuit.”

Copper thefts happen from time to time on Tanner sites.

“This is the first time we’ve had something happen at a hot facility,” Walter said. “My biggest fear was that we were going to find a body.”

Walter estimated that the thief made off with about five pounds of copper.

Metal prices are soft, and Walter said the thief appeared to risk his life for very little gain.

“Everything he got out of those two vaults might have got him $10,” he said. “This is not a smart crook. He’s taking advantage of a situation that could kill him.”

The thief made his getaway alive, but removal of the returns caused fires inside the vaults, damaging equipment. Tanner crews found ragged, frayed wires where he had cut power cables.

Crews worked throughout the night and had power restored by 3:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The cooperative will be inspecting and upgrading locks on all electrical vaults in the weeks ahead.

Walter asks residents to report suspicious behavior at power vaults and stations.

“If you see somebody in an underground facility who doesn’t look like they belong there, let Tanner or PSE know, so we can check,” he said. “If they see vault covers open with nobody around, we need to know about it.

“They’re getting into things they shouldn’t be getting into,” he added.

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