Local man arrested in rash of thefts
By TONI WALTHALL News-Times Staff Union County investigators made an arrest Thursday in connection to a growing rash of electrical power line and copper wire thefts in the area. Robert D. Shern, 31, of 10053 Haynesville Hwy., El Dorado, was arrested by Union County Sheriff deputies after he admitted to stealing at least one length of Entergy wire from a pole at an old house place in the Haynesville Highway area. According to Entergy Customer Service Manager Bill Luther, a serious increase in power line thefts is occurring statewide and some crooks are getting pretty brazen by entering high-voltage sub-stations.
"It’s becoming a major, major problem statewide," Luther said. "It’s been going on for well over a year now." Entergy officials asked Union County Sheriff Ken Jones to step up patrols in rural areas where the majority of thefts are occurring. The recent arrest was a result of that beefed-up patrol.
According to Chief Deputy Jerry Thomas, a deputy stopped Shern, who was accompanied by his wife and a baby. After questioning, Shern and his wife, Crystal Hicks Shern, admitted to investigators that they had cut one line to obtain the copper to sell. Witnesses identified Shern as the man at the scene of the theft.
Luther contributes the increase in power line thefts to an increase in copper prices. Copper wiring, an electrical conduit, is found underneath the rubbery sheathing of power cords and power lines.
According to 13 th Judicial District Drug Task Force Director Gregg Parrish, people will peel away the sheathing and sell the underlying copper for cash.
Parrish surmised that many of the power line thefts are done by people trying to get quick money to support a drug habit. He said that in recent years, at least one death in Ouachita County has been contributed to an attempt to steal a live power line.
Sheriff Ken Jones said that his office has seen a serious upswing in reports related to thefts of electric wire or copper tubing from oil well, Entergy poles and construction sites.
"In some cases they’re even cutting electric power lines from the poles, which is pretty stupid," Jones said. "Just in the last 30 days, we’ve seen a large amount of reports. It’s happening too frequently."
Thomas said that Entergy representatives reported at least 42 spans of power line had been cut down in the southwest part of Union County, along Haynesville Highway, Shuler Road, Salem Road and Tram Road.
"They (Entergy) know when a span gets cut, because it knocks the power out," said Thomas. "
But the price of copper is so high right now, some people are stealing everything they can to sell for scrap. But one of these days, their luck is going to run out and somebody is going to get killed." Thomas said the expense to Entergy to replace the stolen power lines far exceeds the value of copper wire when it is sold to buyer, Thomas said. Jones said deputies will continue increased patrols of rural areas. Deputies will be riding the back roads, watching for suspicious vehicles and stopping and identifying drivers, Thomas said.
Officials remain concerned. They believe it will be just a matter of time before the dangerous trend results in death. Shern was charged with theft of property.