There are days when you can feel that some level of
justice has finally been served. Last fall I was able to experience that for
The story begins about a year ago. During a
routine inspection of my Lawton, Okla., transmitter site, I noticed that things
were a little out of place.
A spool of 3-1/8-inch Heliax line — stored a month
earlier after removal from the KVRW(FM) tower — had been stripped. My examination
revealed that the coax had been cut into short pieces and dragged across the
field. Of nearly 400 feet of line, only 30 feet or so remained on the spool.
I inspected the fence area and found that the chain on
the gate had been cut. Another part of the fence, about 20 feet from the gate, also
had been cut open. Outside the gate I saw two bays of what had been a 10-bay
Shively FM antenna. Another two bays had been left inside the fence.
Apparently the thieves had loaded their truck to capacity
and didn’t have room for anything else.
I made a call to the Comanche County Sheriff’s office. A
deputy arrived at the scene to take my report. We examined the area and saw
that a truck had been parked at the south end of our property for use as a
loading area by the thieves. The deputy took photos of the tire tracks, hoping they’d
lead him to the truck owner. Nothing else seemed to have been disturbed.
After I secured the property and was leaving to return to
the studio, I saw a deputy’s car about a quarter-mile up the road. They were
looking at some five-foot pieces of coax that had been dropped in a ditch about
10 feet from the road.
We talked further and decided to leave it there in hopes
that the thieves would return to the scene of the crime. The sheriff’s office
would have a regular patrol in that area and keep an eye out for the
perpetrators. The coax pieces would not be visible to someone casually driving
past; a person seen loading it likely knew the coax was there.
It took only a couple of days for the criminals to
return. However, they weren’t spotted by the sheriff’s office, but by a news
crew from KSWO(TV).
The crew was in the area talking with neighbors about the
copper theft. As they were leaving they noticed two men loading what looked
like conduit into their pickup truck. The crew stopped and asked the men if this
was their property; the men claimed that they had “found” the coax and were
loading it onto their truck. Upon being confronted by the TV crew, the men drove
away at a high rate of speed.
With the help of the video taken by the news crew, the
sheriff’s department tracked down the men and arrested them. (A neighbor’s son also
discovered a stash of some of the pieces of cut line on a field. After the
sheriff photographed these pieces for evidence, the radio station donated them to
the boy so he could sell them to purchase feed for the cattle he was raising in
a 4H project.)
When I was informed of the arrest by the district
attorney, I felt a great deal of satisfaction. So many times we read about
instances of copper theft at radio stations, and we never heard about a positive
felt this was a victory not only for the radio station but
for every station and engineer that has had to deal with this problem.
Over the next several months, I spent a number of days in
court and in meetings with the DA’s office as they built a case against the
men. The authorities discovered that one of the suspects had previous felony
convictions and had been on parole at the time of the theft. The DA had planned
to offer a plea bargain, but this revelation meant nothing would be offered to
the man primarily responsible for the theft.
The trial date came. The man on parole was found guilty
by the Comanche County Court and sentenced to five years in prison and ordered
to pay restitution to the station for more than $14,000. At the time I’m
writing this story, we haven’t yet received the restitution, and we don’t
expect the payment to come through. But we have the satisfaction of knowing the
thieves were caught. To me, this was a significant victory in the war against
copper thieves. The second man refused a plea bargain and was convicted.
The experience drives home to me the importance of
regular visits to the transmitter sites. Had this site been left alone for
months on end, as some are, it’s unlikely these thieves would have been caught.
I believe in making regular visits to my sites — once a week, if possible. This
practice certainly made the difference in this case.
It’s also a good reminder to do a “security audit” of
your sites a couple of times a year. Are your fences locked and in good
condition? Are all outside lights working? If you have an alarm system, is it
one of these things makes it that much more difficult for the bad guys to win.
Ed Dulaney is the regional
engineering manager for Townsquare Media in Wichita Falls, Texas, and Lawton,
Okla. He also handles engineering for Cumulus radio stations in Wichita Falls.