Police charged a 45-year-old Cranston man with felony larceny recently after he was caught cutting ground wires from utility poles on several city streets for the copper to sell as scrap.
According a spokesman for National Grid, the man, identified as James Edwin Ravenscraft, of 163 South Clarendon St., Cranston, risked severe or fatal injury to cut the copper ground wires to steal the copper.
"This is the first instance I've heard of someone actually pulling the ground wire from the poles," said David Graves, a spokesman for National Grid. "It's one of the most foolhardy actions you can take. It's foolish for someone to grab hold of a ground wire and start cutting away with a metal devices or tool. It's inviting injury and could be fatal."
Police arrested Ravenscraft after a tip that someone was stealing wires from telephone poles led them to Pond Street, where he was walking with a duffel bag on his shoulder and wire cutters sticking out of one of his jacket pockets.
Police said Ravenscraft was "looking for old copper ground wire on telephone poles so he can get money for it" and admitted to cutting wires from five poles on Beckwith St. and one pole on Pond and Grace Streets respectively.
Police searched the bag and found about 50 1-foot-long copper wires.
Police said the cost to replace the ground wires is estimated to be about $1,200.
Though Graves doesn't recall someone actually cutting wires from poles, copper theft from National Grid property occurs on regular basis. Theives steal copper grounds at homes where the utility joins the house at the meter and have pilfered copper spools from storage sites and substations.
Two men died when they were trying to steal wire from a private substation in Tyngsborough, Mass., and were electrocuted by 1000s of volts, Graves said.
"All of this has to do with the market value of copper and the thieves' perceived ability to sell whatever they steal," Graves said. "We work closely with local police and state and federal agencies to investigate and prosecute."
Ravenscraft was arraigned in Third Division District Court and entered no plea to the charges, which is customary in felony cases. He will return to court on Jan. 20. At the time of his arrest, he was unable to post his surety bail of $20,000 and was remanded to the Adult Correctional Institutions.