Copper thieves stall Marmet Christmas tradition - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Copper thieves stall Marmet Christmas tradition

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Two copper thefts were reported in the same day, and the thieves involved in the second crime tried to steal Christmas.

When Marmet city workers tried to light the star atop the community Christmas tree Thursday, they realized someone had stolen the copper wiring and meter connected to the display.

"It's a landmark here in Marmet," said Mayor Bill Pauley. "It's been here ever since I can remember. Everyone looks forward to lighting the star."

While city workers discovered the problem Thursday, Pauley said the theft could have happened any time during the past week.

Marmet police have no leads on a suspect at this point, but across Kanawha County, Charleston police worked on an eerily similar case. It is unclear whether the two crimes are related at this point.

Thieves broke into an AEP substation in Charleston early Thursday morning, stealing wires that cut power from 3,000 customers in Kanawha City and South Hills.

The widespread outage caused the University of Charleston to postpone classes and close administrative offices until noon Thursday.

"The thief is lucky to have escaped with their life," said Jeri Matheny, a spokesperson for AEP. "You hear every year of people who do not live through their attempt to steal copper."

"I went out of the house to see if maybe there was an accident, or if it was just me," said Maxx Turner, who lives a block away from the substation in Kanawha City.

Turner said when the power shut off at 4 a.m., the temperature in his apartment dropped almost 20 degrees within an hour. Without electricity, Turner said he worried about cooking food for his four-year-old son and keeping his family warm.

AEP has installed alarms at the Chesterfield Avenue substation but not surveillance cameras. Matheny said in the past, thieves have stolen or vandalized these cameras, so AEP has no plans to install new gadgets.

People who spent the day in the dark told 13News they think it might be a good idea to add cameras to the substation.

"Oh yeah, that way people would be more deterred and would not come down this way," Turner said.

Matheny said the company spends $1 million every year to repair damages incurred by thefts. She added customers eventually shoulder those costs.

"We will always look for ways to deter theft, but when there are determined persons, this is the result," Matheny said.

AEP crews restored power by 1 p.m. Thursday, but in Marmet, the star that has sat atop the city's Christmas tree for 30 years will remain dark until workers can replace the stolen wire.

"It's kind of hard for me to imagine Marmet without the star, it is so much a part of who we are," said Patty McGrew, who has lived in Marmet most of her life. "It's a beacon of light for Marmet. You expect people to honor certain things, but obviously that's not the case. Nothing is sacred anymore."

Pauley said Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper actually donated a meter to the city of Marmet immediately after he heard about the theft Thursday. The mayor added city workers should be able to light the star Friday, granted they can replace the wires.