At least seven men in five states have been fatally electrocuted since July while hacking through power lines to steal wire made of copper, which has been commanding near-record prices, reports USA Today. “It is a growing problem with the rise in the price of metals,” says Lt. Shea Smith of the Greenville, S.C., County Sheriff’s Office. One thief died in the county July 7 and another Aug. 30. Both were found with wire cutters and other tools that suggested their intent. At least 30 more copper thefts have occurred in the county this year. Nationwide, police report copper thieves stealing wires from air conditioning units, exposed pipes from underneath homes, vases from graveyards, and bells from a church.
Police reported three deaths since July in Fort Worth, Pineville, W.Va., and Aurora, Co. There are no national figures, but the number of copper thefts and related deaths is “probably at the highest level it’s ever been,” says Kenneth Geremia of the Copper Development Association. Copper, which doubled in value in a year, is recyclable and can sell for $3 a pound at scrap yards. Thieves are looking for a quick buck and don’t always take precautions, he says. “They’re not into rocket science.”