'Can you hear me now?' Copper wire thieves target cell tower

MILTON, Wash. -- Thieves stripped a north Pierce County cell phone tower and the surrounding area of hundreds of feet of copper wire, police said Tuesday, yanking the wire from an overgrown plot of land, the supporting structure, and the tower itself.

The theft knocked out the power to the cell tower when it happened Friday, but it is unclear if phone service in the area was impacted, said Milton Police Chief Mark Langford. The tower had backup power sources to sustain it, Langford said.

"(The wire) is quite valuable on the recycling market, as all metals tend to be right now," Langford said. "People are turning to all sorts of means to make a few dollars. Problem is, it costs taxpayers."

City utility crews were called to the tower, in the 100 block of East Meridian Avenue, just after 5 p.m. Friday, Langford said. They found that electrical boxes on the street had been tampered with, and that thieves had managed to pull strands of copper from the cell tower nearly 300 feet away.

"I'm very concerned about any crime that happens in Milton," Langford said. "This was significant."

Given the unusual nature of the theft and how the wire was pulled from the ground, Langford wondered if it was an inside job. A shack adjacent to the cell phone tower also had damage to it, with a busted door guard and broken boxes on the outside, among other things.

"There's a lot of activity (around there) on Friday and Saturday nights," said nearby resident Kellie Young, "but it seems like it's mainly teenage stuff."

Young said her family had been burglarized several times since moving to the area.

"We immediately had theft," she said. "We had all our skis stolen - crab pots, just weird stuff like that."

Police estimate the stolen copper wire is worth several thousand dollars and will likely be resold at a recycling facility.

"I want our citizens to be aware that these type of thefts are occurring," added Langford, "and we need their help in solving them."