If you’ve driven down a dark street in Albuquerque, there’s a chance it’s because of a man recently arrested by Albuquerque Police.
Casey Chavez is accused of stealing thousands of pounds of copper wire from street lights throughout the city. Police believe in all, Chavez hocked nearly 14,000 pounds of copper wire to local metal recyclers since June.
City officials say it’s been a frustrating time dealing with copper theft this year.
“So far this year for 2018, we’re looking at $350,000 in stolen copper,” said Johnny Chandler, spokesman for the Department of Municipal Development.
Chandler says that’s the cost the city has incurred to repair damage and replace the stolen wire.
Albuquerque Police recently arrested 34-year-old Casey Chavez on a “criminal damage to property” charge for at least two known cases of copper theft from city property.
Thirty-one street lamps were knocked out around Coors and I-40 in July. The city says that left $28,000 in damage. Police believe Chavez was responsible.
In the last two weeks, police also believe Chavez is has been responsible for knocking out about 20 street lamps in the Four Hills area, along I-40 near Tramway.
The city’s new street light contractor Citelum is responsible for tracking and repairing any dark city-owned street lights. (PNM also owns tens of thousands of street lights in Albuquerque which it maintains.)
Citelum is working to convert all city-owned street lamps to LED bulbs by November. Each time a street light is found with wire theft or other damage, crews have to deal with that.
“Anytime that copper’s stolen, we have to rewire a pole with aluminum to try to prevent copper theft. It’s just setting back the timetable just a little bit,” said Chandler.
Crews are still expected to meet the November deadline they’ve set in place.
The city’s use of less valuable aluminum wire is also coming with a new warning sticker that’s being placed on poles. That sticker reads, “this pole has aluminum wiring.”
Prosecutors were denied a motion Monday to keep Casey Chavez in jail through trial. Judge Alisa Hart ruled that Chavez will be held in jail for drug treatment, but once that’s done, he’ll be subject to conditions of release that haven’t been set by the court yet.
Chavez struck a plea deal in another city street light copper theft case from 2014. Judge Charles Brown gave Chavez a suspended sentence of three years in jail.