A bizarrely foolhardy attempt to steal live 25,000-volt copper wire from a Red Deer utility box still has city staff shaking their heads in disbelief.
Not only is the crime a possible first of its kind for the city, the fact the thief escaped with their life makes it a worthy addition to the annals of miraculous escapes.
“I think someone got extraordinarily lucky,” said Red Deer Utilities Manager Jim Jorgenson on Wednesday.
“Possibly, they had a little idea of the dangers they we facing. Who knows for sure? I tend to think the luck part was the big one.”
The first inkling that something was amiss came around 4:30 a.m. on Monday when safety switches were tripped, cutting power to around 6,000 homes in Sunnybrook and other nearby areas. When city crews went out to reset the system, it was clear something significant had caused the shutdown.
They traced the problem to an underground electrical enclosure in a concrete well sealed with a bolted steel cover on the edge of the site of the former Black Knight Inn, next to the Red Deer Advocate.
Jorgenson said there were still a pair of wire cutters sticking out of the electrical enclosure when crews arrived.
“There was a little bit (of the wire cutters) protruding out. Likely they cut through and then they could have fused in place.”
How the culprit escaped electrocution is a mystery.
“We’re really fortunate we didn’t find a big smoking hole and a person lying next to it.”
Once the live was cut into there would have been a tremendous flash as thousands of volts of energy were released. There was no one at the scene when crews arrived, so whoever was doing the cutting got away, either on their own or with help.
RCMP were called and are continuing to investigate.
Jorgenson said in his many years with the city he has not seen a case like this one.
That is not to say there have not been numerous attempts to steal copper wire at city electrical facilities. Common targets have been grounding lines attached to fences around substations and other similar facilities.
They became such a frequent target for thieves looking for copper wire to sell that Red Deer and many other municipalities have switched to a copper-clad steel wire.
“The salvage is not there. You can steal it but it’s not worth anything,” he said. “It’s an industry-wide problem it’s not just us.”
An online search turns up numerous stories about municipalities and businesses being victimized by copper wire thieves.
In Wheatland County in June, two suspects were arrested after copper wire was stolen from a cellphone tower. Last December, Red Deer RCMP recovered 135 metres of stolen copper wire cut into 1.2-metre-long sections after searching a home in the city following as part of a garage break-in investigation.
Jorgenson hopes that the word gets out how lucky the prospective thief was in this latest case and no one else tries to risk their life in pursuit of what they see as easy money.
Meanwhile, Red Deer RCMP are asking anyone who has more information or may have seen someone suspicious or possibly injured around Bremner Avenue and Molly Bannister Drive in the early morning hours of Aug. 1 to come forward. Reports can be made by calling the Red Deer RCMP at 403-343-5575. To remain anonymous, you can contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS), online at www.P3Tips.com or by using the “P3 Tips” app available through the Apple App or Google Play Store.