Copper wire theft turns fatal, San Jacinto police say
Two San Jacinto men were killed early Tuesday as they were trying to steal copper wire from a utility vault, police said.
The wire theft and electrocution also knocked out power for about an hour to more than 1,600 customers in San Jacinto and Hemet.
Authorities received a report of fireworks about 1:30 a.m., said Riverside County sheriff’s Deputy Herlinda Valenzuela. A 4-foot-tall electrical transformer had been set ablaze in a vacant field off Idyllwild Avenue that was once a golf driving range, Valenzuela said.
When San Jacinto police and firefighters arrived, two men were found dead inside the vault. The men’s names were not released, pending notification of next of kin, but police said their ages were 48 and 52.
Joe Chacon, 56, lives across the street from the field. He said he awoke to popping noises and heard a man yelling. He saw a glow from the field and saw sparks flying, and called police.
Chacon said the golf building was demolished a year ago and, despite an iron gate at the entrance, the property was unsecured and accessible from multiple streets.
“I always knew someone was going to do that. It was in invitation waiting to happen,” he said.
Southern California Edison spokesman Steven Conroy said thefts and damage of equipment occur occasionally, but have become less frequent as the market price of copper has plummeted.
Edison officials have implemented more surveillance around equipment and substations and taken additional security measures, Conroy said, but they can be difficult to protect.
“People who attempt to do this aren’t trained about the risk or danger from coming in proximity and contact with equipment,” he said about Tuesday’s theft.
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